Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why Do Female Tax Profs Do Better in the SSRN Rankings Than Their Nontax Counterparts?

Sonja Starr (Maryland) has an interesting post, Women and SSRN:

A few weeks ago, out of idle curiosity, I clicked on the SSRN “Top Law Authors” list. The list ranks authors by “total new downloads” of all of their pieces. I was surprised, in one respect, by what I saw. How many women would you expect to find in the top 50?

If you said “none,” you’re right. The highest-ranked woman was Lynn Stout at #58. I went on to look at the top 1000 authors on the list. SSRN lists 100 authors per page, so I just counted the women on each of the first 10 pages. The results: [205 women among the Top 1000 Law Authors]. ...

Women are also significantly underrepresented in “most cited” lists, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. But I didn’t expect the disparity on SSRN to be quite so stark, especially on the “new downloads” lists. First, “most cited” lists heavily favor older authors because those authors have generally produced more total work to be cited .... In contrast, SSRN (especially the “new downloads” ranking) lacks this bias. If anything, it favors younger authors. ...

So what’s the explanation? I can think of three possibilities:

  • SSRN plays a bigger role in fields in which women are most underrepresented (especially business law and law and economics). ...
  • Women aren’t as comfortable with self-promotion. ...
  • Downloaders are sexist. ...

[I]f you care about improving gender balance in legal academia, the issue of representation on SSRN, while not the most important factor, is at least worth considering.

Bernie Black and I discussed the gender aspects of SSRN downloads in our article, Ranking Law Schools: Using SSRN to Measure Scholarly Performance, 81 Ind. L.J. 83, 116-17 (2006):

Gender and racial implications. Prior studies of faculty quality have noted the gender and racial implications of the rankings. For example, Lindgren & Seltzer [The Most Prolific Law Professors and Faculty, 71 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 781 (1996)] found an under-representation of women (but a proportionate representation of minorities) in their ranking of the top twenty-five individual faculty. Eisenberg & Wells [Rankings and Explaining the Scholarly Impact of Law Schools, 27 J. Legal Stud. 373 (1998)] found a statistically significant difference in time-adjusted citations between nonminority males and minority females, but not between nonminority males and nonminority females.

Women and minorities are under-represented in the SSRN download rankings, though one may hope that this effect will lessen as field bias lessens. But at present, only four women and one minority are in the top fifty faculty, and only two women and four minorities are in the next fifty (although there are more women and minorities in the 100-200 range). In contrast, Brian Leiter’s latest citation study placed seven women and six minorities in the top fifty, and eight women and three minorities in the next fifty.

The gender and racial differences persist if the inquiry shifts from total downloads (which depends on decisions by SSRN users) to total papers (which is under authors’ control). Indeed, the apparent driver of underrepresentation of women and minorities is posting of papers. Only two women and two minorities are in the top fifty rankings of total papers, and two women and two minorities in next fifty. Of the eight women and minorities in the top one hundred for total papers, all are in or very close to the top one hundred for total downloads.

Women are more represented in the SSRN Tax Professor Rankings -- in the most recent (March 13, 2009) rankings, 25% (5) of the faculty in the Top 25 downloads (both all-time and recent) are women:

  • Total Downloads:  Francine Lipman (Chapman) #17, Wendy Gerzog (Baltimore) #21, Leandra Lederman (Indiana-Bloomington) #22, Bridget Crawford (Pace) #23, and Ruth Mason (UConn) #24
  • Recent Downloads:  Wendy Gerzog (Baltimore) #8, Karen Burke (San Diego) #9, Francine Lipman (Chapman) #10, Ruth Mason (UConn) #12, and Bridget Crawford (Pace) #19

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Two quick comments:

1. Downloads are a foolish way to measure anything. Citations are questionable, but at least you have to read an article (or pretend to) to cite it. Downloads are based almost exclusively on subject matter and existing reputation.

2. I have always thought of tax lawyers as a sort of ethnic group that with habits and rituals so strange, by outside standards, as to trump gender, race, age or other criteria. In some cases, as Paul has noted, this is a disadvantage. Here it's a plus.

Posted by: mike livingston | Apr 13, 2009 7:03:44 AM