The week of March 8th, which is International Women’s Day, is the peak time of the year for assessing progress towards gender equality. One area where women still appear to face daunting career obstacles is the sciences. Elsevier, an academic publisher, recently conducted a tally of female scientists around the world in 27 subject areas. It counted the researchers who authored peer-reviewed papers published over the past 20 years, in 11 mostly rich countries and in the European Union as a whole. The papers are from Scopus, an index of more than 62m papers.
In the EU, and in eight of the countries considered, the share of women authors grew from about 30% in the late 1990s to about 40% two decades later. Brazil and Portugal are closest to equality, each just a percentage point shy of a 50-50 split. In Japan, by contrast, barely a fifth of researchers are female.
Women are best represented in subjects related to healthcare. In nursing and psychology, for example, they outnumber men in several countries, including America and Britain. By contrast, less than a quarter of researchers who publish papers in the physical sciences are women. Perhaps as a consequence of this, inventors who register patents are still almost all men. In most of the places covered by the report, the share of patent applications by women grew since the late 1990s, but ranges from 8% of those filed in Japan to 26% in Portugal. Such large imbalances suggest that the world is missing out on countless physical discoveries and innovative products, because it is failing to take full advantage of the scientific brainpower of half of its population.
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