Berkeley Lab

Gender Gap Over Uncertainty Words In Academic Papers

Gender gap. (Credit: Michael D. Brown/Shutterstock).

By Thorsten Hellert and Carl A. Williams, December 14, 2023

An extensive body of research shows differences in how men and women use language to describe confidence levels. These differences have often been ascribed to innate or learned behavior in early childhood.

At our All-to-All meeting held on November 6, 2023, Thorsten Hellert, a research scientist in ATAP’s BELLA Center, presented a revealing and thought-provoking talk on the findings of a recent study that showed a substantial gender gap in linguistic uncertainty in academic papers published by males and females.

A collaboration between the University of Chicago, ETH Zurich in Switzerland, the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany, and the University of Michigan, the study analyzed academic papers published between 2015 and 2019 in the top 15 economic, finance, accounting, and management journals.

Hellert said that the study found that female authors tend to “start with more uncertain words” than their male counterparts. “Female authors also tend to increase the amount of uncertainty words more than male authors between pre-submission and publication.”

The study concluded that the editor in charge of submitted manuscripts plays an important role in these linguistic disparities, even when manuscripts were randomly allocated to editors.

Moreover, their analysis showed that editors from countries with lower gender parity, those who work with more men as coauthors, and those who graduated in earlier years exhibit higher gender-gap linguistic disparities than editors who are from countries with greater parity, who work with more women, and who graduated with their Ph.D. more recently.

While the authors stated that these results were not necessarily causal, they “begin to shed light on the influential role of editor characteristics in the academic review process,” they said.

 

To learn more …

Costello, A.M., Fedorova, E., Jin, Z., and Mihalcea, R. “Editing a Woman’s Voice,” arXiv preprint arXiv:2212.02581 (2022), https://doi.org/10.48550/arXiv.2212.02581

 

For more information on ATAP News articles, contact Carl A. Williams (caw@lbl.gov).