It Takes a Submission: Gendered Patterns in the Pages of AJPS

Kathleen Dolan and Jennifer L. Lawless

When we became editors of the American Journal of Political Science on June 1, 2019, we stated that one of our goals was to understand the patterns of submission and publication by authors from underrepresented groups. We begin that examination by presenting data on submission and publication rates of women and men. We focus on manuscripts submitted to the journal between January 1, 2017 and October 31, 2019. This time period spans three different editors/editorial teams: Bill Jacoby served as editor from January 2017 until April 2018; Jan Leighley from April 2018 through May 2019; and we have been co-editors since June 2019. Although our editorial team was in place for only the last five months of this period, we wanted to examine a long enough time span to get a good sense of any gendered patterns that exist in the pages of AJPS.

We view these data as contributing to recent conversations about the representation of women as authors and as cited authorities in political science journals. Michelle Dion and Sarah Mitchell, for example, recently published a piece in PS about the citation gap in political science articles.[1] They compare the gender composition of membership in several APSA organized sections with the gender balance in citations published by each section’s official journal. Dawn Teele and Kathleen Thelen document a lower percentage of female authors in 10 political science journals than women’s share of the overall profession.[2]

We take a different approach. Because we have AJPS submission data, we can examine the link between gender gaps in submission rates and subsequent publication rates. After all, women and men can be under- or over-represented in the pool of published articles only in proportion to their presence in the pool of submitted manuscripts. We believe that attention to the appropriate denominator offers a clearer picture of authorship patterns.

During the period under examination, 4,916 authors submitted manuscripts and received final decisions from AJPS. Women accounted for 1,210 (or 25%) of the submitting authors.

At the manuscript level, the gender disparity was less substantial. Of the 2,672 manuscripts on which an editor issued a final decision, 945 (or 35%) had at least one female author.

The lion’s share of the manuscripts that included a female author, however, also included at least one male co-author (see Figure 1). Indeed, we processed four and half times as many manuscripts written only a man or men (65%) as we did those authored only by a woman or women (14%).

Homing in on the 1,238 solo-authored manuscripts, 962 came from men. Women, in other words, accounted for just 22% of the solo-authored submissions we received.

Figure 1. Composition of Authors for Manuscripts Submitted to AJPS
Figure 1
Notes: Bars represent the percentage of manuscripts that fall into each category. The analysis is based on the 2,672 manuscript for which we issued a final decision (accept or decline) from January 2017 – October 2019.

Whereas striking gender disparities emerge during the submission process, we find no significant gender differences when it comes to manuscript decisions. During this time period, we accepted roughly 6% of submitted manuscripts. Those submissions included a total of 307 authors, 75 of whom were women. Thus, women comprised 24% of accepted authors – this is statistically indistinguishable from the 25% of female submitting authors.[3] Notice, too, that our rates of acceptance are consistent across the composition of authors. Regardless of how many women or men author a piece, only about 6% are accepted for publication. None of the differences across categories in Figure 2 is statistically significant.

Given the comparable acceptance rates across author composition, it’s no surprise that the percentage of female authors on our pages is roughly the same as the proportion of manuscripts submitted that included at least one female author (35%). Of course, given that most of the manuscripts submitted by women also include at least one male co-author, 84% of the articles published during this time had at least one male author. 

Figure 2. Manuscript Acceptance Rates at AJPS, by Composition of Authors
Figure 2Notes: Bars represent the percentage of accepted manuscripts that fall into each category. The analysis is based on the 2,672 manuscript for which we issued a final decision (accept or decline) from January 2017 – October 2019.

A COVID-19 Caveat
Over the course of the last several weeks, submissions at AJPS have picked up substantially (as compared to the same month last year). It’s impossible to know whether to attribute the uptick to MPSA conference papers that were no longer awaiting feedback, more time at home for authors, different teaching commitments, etc. But we examined the 108 submitted manuscripts we received from March 15th through April 19th to assess whether the patterns from the larger data set have been exacerbated amid COVID-19. After all, women are still more likely than men – even among high-level professionals – to shoulder the majority of the household labor and childcare or elder care responsibilities. It wouldn’t be surprising if the gender gap in manuscript submissions grew during this time.

The data reveal that it hasn’t. The 108 manuscripts we processed in this month-long period included 54 female and 108 male authors. So, women comprised 33% of submitting authors, which is actually somewhat higher than usual (remember that women comprised 25% of the authors in the 2017 – 2019 data set).

At the manuscript level, 41 of the 108 papers had at least one female author. That’s 38% of the total, which is again a slightly greater share than the 35% of manuscripts with at least one female author in the larger data set.

This doesn’t mean that Covid-19 hasn’t taken a toll on female authors, though. Women submitted only 8 of the 46 solo-authored papers during this time. Their share of 17% is down from 22% in the larger data set. As a percentage change, that’s substantial. Even if women’s overall submission rates are up, they seem to have less time to submit their own work than men do amid the crisis.

In examining the gendered patterns in submission and publication at AJPS over the past three years, we see two different realities. In terms of “supply,” there is a large disparity. Women constitute just one-quarter of submitting authors, and their names appear on only one-third of submitted manuscripts. But when it comes to “demand,” there is no evidence of clear bias in the review or publication process. Women’s ratios on the printed pages are indistinguishable from their ratios in the submission pool. As long as it’s the case that women are less likely than men to submit manuscripts to AJPS, the gender disparities in publication rates will remain.

Given these findings, and the work we do, we would be remiss not to draw a comparison to the political arena. We’ve known for decades now that when women run for office, they do as well as men. They win at equal rates, raise as much money, and even garner similar media coverage. Yet women remain significantly under-represented in U.S. political institutions. Why? Because they look at a political arena where they are significantly under-represented and assume (rationally) that widespread bias and systematic discrimination is keeping them out. Because they think that in order to be qualified to run for office, they need to be twice as good to get half as far. Because they’re less likely than men to receive encouragement to throw their hats into the ring.

But we also know that when women are encouraged to run for office, they’re more likely to think they’re qualified and they’re more likely to give it a shot.

So as a discipline, it’s incumbent upon us to encourage female scholars to submit their work to AJPS and other top journals. It’s our responsibility to let them know that their work is just as competent and just as important as that of their male colleagues. We are not so naïve as to believe that encouragement is all it takes to close the gender gap in rates of submission. That women are still not similarly situated with men in important resources (tenure track jobs, research support, family obligations) poses obstacles that encouragement alone cannot surmount. But while the discipline continues to address these resource gaps, we can change the face of tables of contents by calling attention to the myths about women not succeeding when they submit their work.

[1] Dion, Michelle L. and Sara M. Mitchell. 2020. “How Many Citations to Women Is ‘Enough?’ Estimates of Gender Representation in Political Science.” PS: Political Science & Politics 53(1):107-13.

[2] Teele, Dawn Langan and Kathleen Thelen. 2017. “Gender in the Journals: Publication Patterns in Political Science.” PS: Political Science & Politics 50(2):433-47.

[3] These results are consistent with a 2018 symposium on gender in the American Political Science Association’s journals. See “Gender in the Journals, Continued: Evidence from Five Political Science Journals.” PS: Political Science & Politics 51(4).


  1. Larissa Shamseer says:

    Is this going to be formally published study with a DOI? It’s brilliant, but will be hard for meta-researchers to find and include this important work in the broader evidence base.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.