Women scientists get less early-career research funding from the U.S. government than men, which can put them at a disadvantage for the rest of their careers, a new study says.
Researchers analyzed grants given by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to 53,000 first-time principal investigators (57 percent men and 43 percent women) between 2006 and 2017.
The average grant was $126,615 for women and $165,721 for men, a gap of more than $39,000. For the 10 highest-funded grant types across all institutions, the average grant was $305,823 for women and $316,350 for men.
“If women are receiving less grant support from the very beginning of their career, they are less likely to succeed,” said co-corresponding author Teresa Woodruff. She is vice chairwoman for research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
One exception was R01 grants — women received $15,913 more than men. R01 is the NIH’s oldest funding program, aiding projects related to the mission of one or more of its institutes.
The researchers also found that gender disparities in funding varied by institution. Women at the Big Ten universities received an average grant amount of $66,365, compared with $148,076 for men.
At Ivy League schools, the average grant was $52,190 for women and $71,703 for men. At the top 50 NIH-funded institutions, the average grant was $93,916 for women and $134,919 for men, according to the study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The investigators noted that women and men had published the same average number of articles, which received the same average number of citations across the same range of fields.
“This means women are performing at a level on par with men, despite the fiscal disparity,” Woodruff said in a Northwestern news release.
She said the findings show that women are disadvantaged from the very first NIH grant they seek, compared to men.
“With less federal funding, women can’t recruit the same number of grad students to work on their research or buy the same amount of equipment as their male counterparts,” Woodruff explained.
And the disadvantage is likely to snowball over time, research suggests.
“If you don’t have the right kind of grant from NIH, you are less likely to be promoted,” said co-corresponding author Brian Uzzi, a professor of leadership and organizational change at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. He noted that the level of prestigiousness of a grant award is something that can “make or break someone’s career.”
Previous research found that women receive less startup funding from their universities to launch their research.
And science suffers as a result, Uzzi said.
“Women in science don’t only add to discovery by bringing in the brain power from the other half of the human race, but also the culture of science,” he said in the news release. “So much of science today is done in teams, and women on teams promote different points of view, increasing our comprehension of problems.”
See more about the recent International Day of Women and Girls in Science.