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Peer Review Congress
July 15, 1998

Is There a Sex Bias in Choosing Editors?Epidemiology Journals as an Example

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine (Drs Dickersin and Fredman and Ms Crawley) and the Charles McC. Mathias Jr National Study Center for Trauma and Emergency Medical Systems (Dr Scott), University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore; and the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Md (Dr Flegal). Dr Dickersin is now with Brown University, School of Medicine, Providence, RI.

JAMA. 1998;280(3):260-264. doi:10.1001/jama.280.3.260

Context.— Editors, authors, and reviewers are influential in shaping science. The careers of women in public health have received less scrutiny than those of women in medicine and other branches of science. The performance of women as editors, authors, and reviewers in epidemiology has not been previously studied.

Objective.— To examine changes over time in the representation of women at the editorial level in US epidemiology journals compared with the proportion of women authors and reviewers.

Design and Setting.— Cross-sectional study of 4 US epidemiology journals, American Journal of Epidemiology, Annals of Epidemiology, Epidemiology, and the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology (formerly the Journal of Chronic Diseases), for 1982, 1987, 1992, and 1994.

Subjects.— Editors, authors, and reviewers for the selected years.

Main Outcome Measures.— Sex of editors, authors, and reviewers.

Results.— We identified 2415 reports associated with 8005 authors. One of 7 editors in chief was a woman, a position she shared with a man. For all journals, the proportion of editors who were women ranged from 5 (6.5%) of 77 in 1982 to 42 (16.3%) of 258 in 1994. Over all journals and all years, women comprised a higher proportion of authors (28.7% [2225/7743] ) compared with reviewers (26.7% [796/2982]) or editors (12.8% [89/696]).

Conclusions.— Fewer women in public health hold editorial positions than are authors and reviewers. The reasons for this important discrepancy, including the possibility of a selection bias favoring men, should be further investigated.