Men Cite Themselves in Academic Journals More Than Women Do

Discrepancy could help explain gender pay gap

23 August 2016

Although women have earned about half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees in the United States since the late 1990s, they represent less than a quarter of the university faculty in those fields, according to the National Science Foundation. One reason for the gap might be that women don’t promote their research as much as men in their field do—which can affect their career.

According to a study conducted by sociologists at Stanford on self-citation in scholarly publications, men cite themselves in research articles as much as 70 percent more than women do.

The study, released in June, reviewed more than 8 million citations in 1.5 million research articles. Not only did the researchers find that men are more likely than women to cite their own work, they also noted that prominent scholars cite themselves frequently. One had cited himself more than 1,400 times in the articles selected for the study. The self-citation trend among men holds true across every major academic field reviewed, including biology, philosophy, and law.

It might seem natural to cite one’s own work, particularly if you’re one of the few experts in your field, but there could be ulterior motives at play.


Citations are a marker of authority and influence, notes an article in The Washington Post. Authors with more citations are more likely to be promoted or get offers for high-paying positions. Universities take citation counts into consideration when making decisions about hiring, tenure, and pay.

Moreover, academic articles with a high number of citations are more likely to be cited. Therefore, the more authors cite themselves, the more citations they’ll receive from others.

The study points out an ego difference between the genders, according to The Washington Post article. The findings note several reasons why the gap in self-citations might exist. Other studies have shown men generally have higher opinions of their own work than women do, for example, and they face fewer social penalties for self-promotion. A man who boasts about his work typically is viewed as self-confident, say, whereas a woman doing the same is often seen as bragging.

Men also tend to publish more, the article says, particularly in niche fields—which gives them more opportunities for citing their work.

Do you think the lack of self-citations by women is affecting their pay and advancement in academia?

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