Is there a gender-based fragmentation of communication science? An investigation of the reasons for the apparent gender homophily in citations

Abstract

Multiple studies report that male scholars cite publications of male authors more often than their female colleagues do—and vice versa. This gender homophily in citations points to a fragmentation of science along gender boundaries. However, it is not yet clear whether it is actually (perceived) gender characteristics or structural conditions related to gender that are causing the heightened citation frequency of same-sex authors. A bibliometric study on the two leading German communication science journals Publizistik and Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft was employed to further analyze the causes of the phenomenon. As scholars tend to primarily cite sources from their own area of research, differences among male and female scholars regarding their engagement in certain research fields become relevant. It was thus hypothesized that the research subject might mediate the relationship between the citing and cited authors’ genders. A first analysis based on n = 917 papers published in the period from 1970 to 2009 confirmed the expected gender-differences regarding research-activity in certain fields. Subsequently, structural equation modeling was employed to test the suggested mediation model. Results show the expected mediation to be a complementary one indicating that gender homophily in citations is partly due to topical boundaries. While there are alternative explanations for the remaining direct effect, it may suggest that a fragmentation of science along gender boundaries is indeed an issue that communication science must face.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    While generally old-boy networks are assumed to exist and are presented as a possible cause of the apparent gender homophily in citations (e.g., Davenport and Snyder 1995, p. 409; Ferber 1988, p. 86), some empirical studies have shown that female researchers collaborate as much as (Blake et al. 2004) or even more than (Fell and König 2016) male researchers. However, such results may highly depend on the scientific subject and/or respective subfield analyzed.

  2. 2.

    Several of the binary variables used in the analysis were originally combined in one variable capturing one subject dimension, such as type of communicator or respective type of content (categories: journalism, public relations, advertising, entertainment). Where several categories of the same dimension were applicable, coders wrote a remark that was taken into account during the subsequent dummy coding. The intercoder-reliability test was carried out with the non-dummy-coded versions, which is why some of the seven topic variables mentioned above share the same reliability score.

  3. 3.

    The α-value for the variable capturing health communication is low, but partly because the variable was strongly skewed. The variable was, therefore, retained, but the coding was carried out by one of the researchers, as a larger degree of expert knowledge in communication science facilitated recognizing fields of research correctly.

  4. 4.

    More specifically, Fig. 1 shows the share of citations made to publications by female authors among all citations made to publications by male or female authors (i.e., citations made to publications issued by organizations, etc., were excluded).

  5. 5.

    As the number of female authors—and likely also the interest for specific fields of research—varied over time, the decade in which each of the 917 papers was published had to be included as a control variable in the respective model.

  6. 6.

    The 917 papers were written by only 579 different first-named authors.

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Potthoff, M., Zimmermann, F. Is there a gender-based fragmentation of communication science? An investigation of the reasons for the apparent gender homophily in citations. Scientometrics 112, 1047–1063 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-017-2392-0

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Keywords

  • Fragmentation of science
  • Citations
  • Gender homophily
  • Bibliometrics
  • Intergroup communication