Article Text

Original research
Longitudinal analyses of gender differences in first authorship publications related to COVID-19
  1. Carolin Lerchenmüller1,2,
  2. Leo Schmallenbach3,
  3. Anupam B Jena4,5,6,
  4. Marc J Lerchenmueller3
  1. 1Department of Cardiology, Angiology, Pulmonology, University Hospital Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
  2. 2German Center for Heart and Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), Heidelberg/Mannheim, Germany
  3. 3Area Management, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany
  4. 4Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  5. 5Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  6. 6National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Carolin Lerchenmüller; carolin.lerchenmueller{at}


Objective Concerns have been raised that the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted research productivity to the disadvantage of women in academia, particularly in early career stages. In this study, we aimed to assess the pandemic’s effect on women’s COVID-19-related publishing over the first year of the pandemic.

Methods and results We compared the gender distribution of first authorships for 42 898 publications on COVID-19 from 1 February 2020 to 31 January 2021 to 483 232 publications appearing in the same journals during the same period the year prior. We found that the gender gap—the percentage of articles on which men versus women were first authors—widened by 14 percentage points during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite many pertinent research fields showing near equal proportions of men and women first authors publishing in the same fields before the pandemic. Longitudinal analyses revealed that the significant initial expansions of the gender gap began to trend backwards to expected values over time in many fields. As women may have been differentially affected depending on their geography, we also assessed the gender distribution of first authorships grouped by countries and geographical areas. While we observed a significant reduction of the shares of women first authors in almost all countries, longitudinal analyses confirmed a resolving trend over time.

Conclusion The reduction in women’s COVID-19-related research output appears particularly concerning as many disciplines informing the response to the pandemic had near equal gender shares of first authorship in the year prior to the pandemic. The acute productivity drain with the onset of the pandemic magnifies deep-rooted obstacles on the way to gender equity in scientific contribution.

  • general medicine (see internal medicine)
  • COVID-19
  • health policy

Data availability statement

All data and source code generated and analysed during the current study can be accessed at (Harvard Dataverse).

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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Data availability statement

All data and source code generated and analysed during the current study can be accessed at (Harvard Dataverse).

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  • Twitter @CLerchenmueller, @LSchmallenbach, @AnupamBJena, @@MLerchenmueller

  • ABJ and MJL contributed equally.

  • Contributors LS and ML collected data. LS, ML and CL performed data analysis. CL, ML and AJ wrote the manuscript, LS edited the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding Support was provided by the Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health (1DP5OD017897, AJ). Joachim Herz Foundation (LS) and University of Mannheim (FAiR@UMA) (ML).

  • Disclaimer The funding sources had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review or approval of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests AJ reports receiving consulting fees unrelated to this work from Pfizer, Hill Rom Services, Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Tesaro, Sanofi Aventis, Biogen, Precision Health Economics and Analysis Group. Also unrelated to this work, ML reports serving on the board of AaviGen.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.