There’s a new mansplanation for the epidemic of mansplaining that the internet is now engulfed in: Not only are men more likely to overrate their abilities more than women, but dudes are — in a literal sense — way more likely to cite their own expertise.
The data comes care of the Washington Post’s ever-compelling Chris Ingraham, who just wrote up a new working paper lead-authored by Stanford sociologist Molly King. For the paper, which is currently under review but not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, King and her colleagues analyzed 1.5 million (!) papers in the academic database JSTOR dating from 1779 to 2011. They found that about 10 percent of all the 8.2 million citations they counted were self-citations. Male authors cited their own work 56 percent more often than women did over those 232 years, the authors say, and that gap increased to 70 percent in the last two decades of the data. While there’re finally more women in academia than there were 50 years ago, the authors say that the self-citation gap persists, and the trend tracked across fields, from biology to philosophy to law.
Citations are high-stakes in academia. If you write a paper that has zillions of citations, that means that lots of people have built their research on top of yours. The citation count serves an index for the effect that you’re having on your field. Academics with lots of citations get jobs, the most elite research institutions are those that gather the most highly cited researchers. And guess what? The more you cite yourself, the more likely you’ll get cited by others.
All this is of a piece with the lopsided genderedness of self-advocacy, where it’s part of performing masculinity but not femininity. A highly cited 1998 organizational psychology paper found that when women self-promote, they might be perceived as more competent, but they are seen as less hirable. Other research indicates that both men and women feel discomfort with selling themselves, but since it’s a “stereotype violation” for women to do, they’re more likely to give up on it. It goes all the way up the corporate ladder: 76 percent of female executives from a 2014 survey reported that they have problems with self-promotion. From combing through two centuries of academic publishing, it looks like the same self-editing is happening in the ivory tower, too.