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Career prospects for female university researchers have not improved


There are fewer female than male professors in the world (21–79 distribution in the country of examination). The unequal distribution of male and female professors has usually been taken to indicate that men and women have not had equal opportunities to achieve professorship. At the same time, the increase in the proportion of female professors has been taken as evidence that academia is becoming more gender equal. It is possible that both of these assumptions are flawed, and that the gender distribution among professors is the result of demographic inertia, i.e., affected by the previous distribution of men and women within the system, and how fast the distribution has changed.This study examines whether the chances, for men and women, of becoming a full professor changes over time, and whether gender differences may possibly depend on early career events. It concludes that women are significantly less likely than men to become professors and that this situation is not improving over time. In spite of policies that have tried to increase the proportion of female professors, the chances of a woman becoming a professor do not change over time. We also show that these gender differences in promotion rate can be attributed to early career events.

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  1. Silander does have problems defining university belonging which opens up for some ambiguity in the results (Danell 2004). However, we have tested differences in exit with our data and finds that there are no significant differences between men and women in the risk of leaving the university system after finalizing the PhD (results available from the authors)

  2. The gender development index measures three dimensions; reproductive health (maternal mortality and adolescent fertility rate), empowerment (seat in parliament and secondary and higher education attainment), and the labor market (participation in the labor force).

  3. This position implies a 4 year fully financed full-time research position. It is important to note that these positions are limited to 4 years and that they do not result in a permanent position regardless of performance, as permanent positions are not related to these research positions.


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Correspondence to Rickard Danell.

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Danell, R., Hjerm, M. Career prospects for female university researchers have not improved. Scientometrics 94, 999–1006 (2013).

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  • Academic career
  • Female researchers
  • Universities
  • Sweden
  • Promotion rate