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Despite closing gaps, women researchers still lag in international mobility, finds study

Despite efforts to close the gap, international mobility, which is essential for many successful careers, women in scientific research lag behind their male counterparts, according to researchers from Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at Oxford and Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.

The study, published in the journal PNAS recently, demonstrates how gender inequality among mobile academic scientists varies across countries and over time on a global scale. It also affects the demographic composition of the scientific workforce in origin and destination countries. The researchers present an international and dynamic perspective on the global migration of scholars based on gender.

‘While the US remained the leading academic destination worldwide, the shares of both female and male scholarly inflows to that country declined from around 25% to 20% over the study period, partially due to the growing relevance of China,’ the researchers noted.

The researchers further noted that though countries like the US, UK and Canada have long been the preferred destination of researchers from the Global South, in recent decades, also as a result of numerous programs aimed at attracting overseas researchers and of changes in socioeconomic and geopolitical conditions, non-English-speaking western countries, like Switzerland, Germany, and France, as well as some Asian countries, such as China and Singapore, have become increasingly attractive for international researchers.

“Current literature points to gender inequality in science across countries. But a lack of relevant data on the migration of scholars has made it difficult to answer whether male and female scientists migrate equally,” lead author of the study, Lead author Xinyi Zhao, from the Leverhulme Centre and the Max Planck Institute, stated.

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Co-author Ridhi Kashyap from Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre says, “While gender inequalities remain, our findings support a growing feminisation of scholars migrating internationally. However, female researchers are still restricted in moving globally and as freely as their male counterparts.”

The study further noted that gender gaps among researchers and international scholars favouring men were smaller in high-income and upper-middle-income countries than in low-income countries. The US, UK, and Germany remained popular with female and male mobile scholars, but in these global hubs of international science, gender gaps nonetheless persisted.

While in a handful of countries, including Portugal, Brazil and Argentina, near gender equality among mobile researchers was seen, Japan and South Korea had significant gender gaps in favour of men.

“Our study indicates that opportunities for women to advance their academic careers through international mobility have increased,” co-author of the study Emilio Zagheni, from the Max Planck Institute, said.

“While we unveiled a key and welcome trend, we also note that more research is needed to understand underlying mechanisms, including the roles played by families and by science policies in shaping gender differences in the drivers and outcomes of relocations,” he concluded.

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