Abstract

The present survey determined women's participation in eight journals concerned with mental retardation and related topics. The number of female authors was recorded for all articles published in these journals from 1991 through 2000. The number of women on the editorial board each year, for each journal, also was tabulated. For all years and all journals, women were first authors of 41% of articles published. Women wrote 34% of single-author articles. Overall, 45% of all authors were women. Women constituted 34% of the editorial board members for the eight journals combined. In sum, these data suggest that women's contribution to the mental retardation literature decreases with the prestige of the activity.

According to the, National Center for Education Statistics (2000), the proportion of women enrolled in higher education increased steadily from 1970 through 1996. For example, the percentage of females pursuing undergraduate degrees increased from 42% in 1970 to 56% in 1996. This change represents a 33% relative increase in female undergraduate students. An even larger proportional increase, 44%, is evident with respect to females enrolled in graduate programs. In 1970, 39% of all graduate students were women. By 1996, the figure increased to 56%. Educational data clearly indicate that an increasing proportion of the female population is qualified for careers in professional fields relevant to mental retardation.

For example, women earned 82%, 69%, and 66% of the doctorate degrees awarded in special education, social work, and psychology, respectively, in 1998 (Kohout & Williams, 1999; National Science Foundation, 1998). The manner in which men and women with doctorates (and other degrees) contribute to their field has been studied extensively with respect to the field of psychology but not with respect to other disciplines relevant to mental retardation. Women occupied 40% of full-time psychology faculty positions in 1997 (American Psychological Association, 1998) compared to 21% in 1990 and 9% in the early 1970s (Pion et al., 1996). Many of these women reported being involved in research. Pion et al. indicated that “the proportion of men and women [faculty] interested in research were equal (80%) among experimental psychologists, and more female clinical and social faculty endorsed research goals than their male counterparts” (pp. 522–523).

Despite the fact that women are receiving degrees appropriate to research-related careers, and are reportedly interested in doing so, they have been underrepresented in some scientific activities. For example, surveys in several areas of psychology indicated that although women's participation as authors has increased over time, substantially more journal articles published in the last decade had men than women as first authors and, overall, the majority of authors were men (Jarema, Snycerski, Bagge, Austin, & Poling, 1999; Myers, 1993; McSweeney, Donahue, & Swindell, 2000; McSweeney & Swindell, 1998; Pion et al., 1996; Poling et al., 1983; Skinner, Robinson, Brown, & Cates, 1999).

Authoring journal articles is one important way to contribute to an academic discipline. Serving on the editorial board of prominent journals in that discipline is another way.

Some researchers who determined the participation of women as authors in psychology journals also ascertained women's participation as members of the editorial boards of those same journals (Jarema et al., 1999; McSweeney et al., 2000; McSweeney & Swindell, 1998; Myers, 1993). Interestingly, in several journals where the number of women authors increased across time, their participation as editorial board members did not increase. In fact, McSweeney and her colleagues (2000) pointed out that in behavior-analytic journals, women “were more likely to appear as authors than as first authors and as first authors than as members of the editorial board” (p. 275). They interpreted these data as reflective of a “glass ceiling” that caused the participation of women to decrease progressively as the selectivity and importance of the activity increased. Put differently, gender inequity appeared to reduce women's opportunities to contribute to behavior analysis. Moreover, according to McSweeney et al. “finding the same results for so many journals suggests that the inequity is widespread” (p. 274).

Three of the journals to which McSweeney et al. (2000) referred, the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA), Behavior Modification (BM), and Behaviour Research and Therapy (BRT), regularly published intervention articles in which the participants were people with mental retardation. These journals also published other types of articles of interest to researchers and practitioners involved in the field of mental retardation. Therefore, data for these journals provided some indication of women's contribution to the mental retardation literature as authors and as editors. Nonetheless, there are other journals that more directly focus on mental retardation (and related topics), and it is unwise to assume that women's participation in those journals has been similar to their participation in the aforementioned journals.

To provide further information concerning women's contribution to the mental retardation (and related) literature, we present authorship and editorial board membership data for articles published from 1991 through 2000 in the American Journal on Mental Retardation (AJMR), Exceptional Children (EC), Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (ETMRDD), Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (JASH), Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities (JDPD), Journal of Special Education (JSE), Mental Retardation (MR), and Research in Developmental Disabilities (RDD). These journals were selected for analysis because (a) they represent diverse approaches to the study of mental retardation, and (b) they were readily available to us. Articles relevant to mental retardation appear in several other journals (e.g., Remedial and Special Education, School Psychology Review, Education and Treatment of Children, Topics in Early Childhood Special Education). The eight journals selected for analysis cover a broad spectrum of prestigious outlets for research, theory, and opinion relevant to mental retardation, but they by no means encompass the mental retardation literature in its entirety.

Each article that appeared in these journals from 1991 through 2000 was evaluated to determine (a) the gender of all first authors, (b) the gender of authors of single-author articles, and (c) the gender of all authors. The gender of members of the editorial boards also was determined. These data provide a reasonable index of men's and women's relative contribution to a sizable portion of the mental retardation (and related) literature. Moreover, by comparing contributions across these areas, it may be possible to determine whether a “glass ceiling” exists with respect to particular journals. If one accepts the analysis of McSweeney and her colleagues (2000), that such a barrier exists, women's participation should decrease more than men's as one moves from all authors to first authors to editors. Although McSweeney et al. did not consider this possibility, gender inequity, if present, might make it particularly difficult for women to publish single-author articles.

Method

Every article in AJMR, EC, ETMRDD, JASH, JDPD, JSE, MR, and RDD from 1991 through 2000 was evaluated by one of two raters, each of whom had an advanced degree in psychology, to determine both the total number and the gender of authors and editorial board members. For each article, regardless of apparent or listed category (e.g., research article, commentary, book review), the rater recorded on a standardized data sheet the name and gender of the first author and the name and gender of each of the other authors.

The gender of authors was determined on the basis of personal knowledge or, if the author was unfamiliar to the rater, on the basis of the first name. If the first name was gender-neutral (e.g., Pat) or unfamiliar to the rater, or if only initials were provided, “unknown gender” was recorded on the data sheet. Subsequently, an attempt was made to identify the author's gender by corresponding with colleagues of the rater with potential knowledge of the author. If this attempt was unsuccessful, an attempt was made to contact the author's listed institutional affiliation by E-mail and to seek information that would indicate gender (e.g., a university website with faculty descriptions, including pictures or gender-identifying pronouns). If gender could not be determined on this basis, the Internet was used to search for an E-mail address or phone number at which the person could be contacted directly. If these contact means could not be obtained for a given author, or if that person could not be reached, that person was reported to be of undetermined gender. Across all years and all journals, it was not possible to determine the gender of 26 (< 1%) of the first authors and 96 (<2%) of the other authors.

To allow interrater agreement to be calculated, the two raters independently scored the same 306 articles (10% of the 2,972 total articles rated). They agreed perfectly with respect to (a) the authors whose gender was not apparent (N = 11) and (b) the gender of the other authors (N = 763). No attempt was made to determine interrater agreement for the 11 authors whose gender was not initially apparent because doing so might have required a given author to be contacted twice, which she or he might well have viewed as an unnecessary imposition.

Editorial board data were based on information provided in the first issue of each journal from 1991 through 2000. Initially, the names of all individuals described as serving an editorial function (i.e., editors, assistant editors, associate editors, field reviewers, book review editors, perspectives editors, and consulting editors) were recorded on data sheets. The gender of these individuals was determined in the same way as the gender of authors. Across years and all journals, it was not possible to determine the gender of 10 of the 5,079 editorial board members (< 1%).

Results

To allow interrater agreement to be calculated, the two raters independently scored 8 years (10%) of editorial board information (one randomly selected year for each journal). They agreed perfectly with respect to the editors whose gender was not apparent (N = 1) and with respect to the gender of the other editors (N = 610). No attempt was made to determine interrater agreement for the editor whose gender was not initially apparent.

In all, 2,972 articles were evaluated, with 539, 410, 349, 253, 252, 287, 566, and 316 from AJMR, EC, ETMRDD, JASH, JDPD, JSE, MR, and RDD, respectively. The mean percentage of articles with a woman first author was 38%, 49%, 48%, 55%, 40%, 40%, 33%, and 33% for AJMR, EC, ETMRDD, JASH, JDPD, JSE, MR, and RDD, respectively. The percentage of articles with a woman first author appeared to remain stable in JASH, JSE, MR, and RDD and increase over time in AJMR, EC, ETMRDD, and JDPD, although the substantial variability evident across years makes interpretation difficult. (For all measures, data for individual journals across all years are available in Porter, 2001.)

For AJMR, EC, ETMRDD, JASH, JDPD, JSE, MR, and RDD, 19%, 22%, 15%, 27%, 19%, 29%, 42%, and 10% of the articles, respectively, had a single author. On average across the 10 years, 26%, 53%, 34%, 47%, 25%, 43%, 26%, and 24% of single-author articles in AJMR, EC, ETMRDD, JASH, JDPD, JSE, MR, and RDD, respectively, were written by women. Data for this measure varied markedly across years, and no clear trend was evident for any journal.

With respect to the percentage of total women authors, mean values across the 10 years were 43%, 51%, 49%, 62%, 43%, 44%, 41%, and 37% for AJMR, EC, ETMRDD, JASH, JDPD, JSE, MR, and RDD, respectively. The percentage of total authors who were women appeared to increase over time in AJMR, EC, and JASH and remain relatively stable in the other journals. For all journals and years, the gender of nearly all authors was determined.

From 1991 through 2000, the percentage of women editorial board members was 34%, 51%, 26%, 49%, 23%, 34%, 37%, and 7% for AJMR, EC, ETMRDD, JASH, JDPD, JSE, MR, and RDD, respectively. No trend was evident in the editorial board data for any journal. Figure 1 shows summary data for all years and journals, indicating the percentage of (a) total authors who were women, (b) first authors who were women, (c) single authors who were women, and (d) editors who were women, thereby facilitating comparison across the four dependent variables.

Figure 1

Percentage of total women and men authors, first authors, single authors, and editors from 1991 through 2000 for eight journals relevant to mental retardation and related topics

Figure 1

Percentage of total women and men authors, first authors, single authors, and editors from 1991 through 2000 for eight journals relevant to mental retardation and related topics

Discussion

In several areas of psychology, the discipline relevant to mental retardation for which the most data are available, women's participation as authors has increased over the past several decades. Nonetheless, men are more likely than women to be authors of journal articles (Jarema et al., 1999; Myers, 1993; McSweeney et al., 2000; McSweeney & Swindell, 1998; Pion et al., 1996; Poling et al., 1983; Skinner et al., 1999). Men published more articles than did women in the journals that we examined, but the difference was not as large as that in the psychology journals evaluated in other studies. Across all years and all journals, 45% and 53% of all authors were women and men, respectively. The remaining 2% of the authors were of unknown gender. Of 7,815 total authors of the articles that we examined, there were 604 more men than female authors. We believe that this difference is noteworthy, but it is not reason for great concern. Women clearly made a substantial contribution to literature dealing with mental retardation and related topics during the past decade.

Nonetheless, men were overrepresented as authors in the journals that we examined. One possible explanation is that more men that women were employed in positions that fostered research and publication in mental retardation (and related) journals. Two research groups have reported that the leading institutions for applied research in developmental disabilities are university-based (Logan, Lott, & Mayville 2000; Matson, Ary, & Gorman-Smith, 1986). If women held fewer full-time positions than men in institutions that produced the most research, as is the case in psychology, it is perhaps not surprising that fewer women were authors of peer-reviewed journal articles. If this is, in fact, the case, the proportion of female authors will likely increase as the proportion of women holding full-time faculty positions in research institutions increases. One limitation of the present data set is that it encompasses only 10 years. If the foregoing analysis is correct, the percentage of articles written by women should roughly parallel their percentage of academic appointments in relevant areas. Data for the two variables over several decades are needed to determine whether this has occurred.

Differences in academic rank also may affect the number of publications by women and men, especially as sole or first authors. In the present study, for all years and all journals, women were first authors of 41% of the articles. They wrote 34% of the articles with a single author. Traditionally, when a paper has multiple authors, the first author position is assigned to the person who contributed most significantly to the research/paper (e.g., the principal investigator). Senior academics, and people in other positions of power, are especially likely to play such roles. Single-author articles are often reviews, commentaries, or invited manuscripts. Such works typically are written by established scientists and scholars who have the time, resources, and reputation necessary to bring them to fruition. Editorship, too, characteristically is reserved for such individuals. It would be interesting to control for academic rank in examining the number of publications and editorial activities by women and men. Unfortunately, this has not been done in previous studies, and we did not do so in the present study.

Our guess, however, is that the “glass ceiling” that supposedly limits women's participation in research as the position increases (Chliwiak, 1997; McSweeney et al., 2000; Quina, Cotter, & Romenesko, 1998) may be due, at least in part, to the fact that today's workforce contains substantially more older and well-established men than women. In 2001, women held 46%, 36%, and 21% of assistant, associate, and full professor positions in the United States institutions of higher learning (American Association of University Professors [AAUP], 2001a, 2001b). We believe that as increasingly more women enter positions where research and scholarly activities are required, grow older, and succeed in these activities, they will move upward through the academic ranks. As they do so, they will write an increasing number of articles as first and single authors, and they will hold more editorial positions.

Of course, women may face barriers to career advancement that differ qualitatively or quantitatively from those faced by men. As others have discussed (e.g., McSweeney et al., 2000; Myers, 1993; Neef, 1993), family and other social responsibilities historically met by women may interfere with professional success and advancement. The AAUP (2001) has recommended strategies for assisting women (and men) faced with such responsibilities. Widespread acceptance of these recommendations may be especially beneficial to women scientists and scholars.

Conscious or unconscious bias on the part of editors and editorial board members also may work to the detriment of women. Such bias is difficult to detect, but blind review of manuscripts and, insofar as possible, of academic credentials, helps to reduce it. When necessary, appropriate legal action does the same. Finally, discussing the problem may help fair-minded people to eliminate it. It is in the interest of fostering discussion of the appropriate roles of women and men in the large and important field of mental retardation that the present data are presented.

NOTE: The reported data were collected as part of a doctoral dissertation presented by the first author to the Department of Psychology, Western Michigan University, in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the doctoral degree.

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Author notes

Authors:Cari L. Porter, PhD, Research Associate, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008. LeeAnn Christian, PhD, Director of Research, Institute for Applied Behavior Analysis, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045. Alan Poling, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008. Requests for reprints should be sent to the third author ( alan.poling@wmich.edu)