Marc Lerchenmueller and Olav Sorenson
We examined the extent to which and why early career transitions have led to women being underrepresented among faculty in the life sciences. We followed the careers of 6,336 scientists from the post-doctoral fellowship stage to becoming a principal investigator (PI) – a critical transition in the academic life sciences. Using a unique dataset that connects individuals’ National Institutes of Health funding histories to their publication records, we found that a large portion of the overall gender gap in the life sciences emerges from this transition. Women transition to being a PI at a 20% lower rate than men. Differences in “productivity” (publication records) can explain about 60% of this lower rate. The remaining differential in the rates appears to stem from gender differences in the returns to similar publication records, with women systematically receiving less credit for highly-cited research.