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  • June 21, 2021

How COVID-19 exacerbated the gender gap in academia


Women have long been underrepresented in academia, accounting for only a third of full professors in the United States and an even smaller share in Europe and Canada. Many disciplines, including economics, have recently taken steps to change that.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everything.

In a paper in the AEA Papers and Proceedings, authors Tatyana Deryugina, Olga Shurchkov, and Jenna Stearns investigated the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 disruptions on female scholars. 

They examined survey data from 19,905 respondents with doctoral degrees, asking them to estimate the average number of hours spent on research and other tasks before and after the pandemic began.





Figure 2 from Deryugina et al. (2021)

Figure 2 from their paper shows the overall impact of COVID-19 disruptions by gender. The dark blue columns represent the impact on women and light blue are for men. The black bars show 95 percent confidence intervals. There was clearly a disproportionate decline in research time among female academics compared to men, mirrored by a disproportionate increase in time spent on childcare and housework. Meanwhile, there were no differential effects by gender on other job-related activities, such as teaching, nor much difference in the drop in commute times, sleep, or other tasks.

The authors also found that the gender gaps were driven by people with young children. And it’s likely that these results underestimate the lost research time, since the most overburdened individuals would have been less likely to respond to the survey. 

The findings highlight how academic institutions may need to reevaluate faculty benefits, especially when it comes to improving access to childcare.

“COVID-19 Disruptions Disproportionately Affect Female Academics” appears in the May 2021 issue of AEA Papers and Proceedings.