Gender, beauty and support networks in academia: evidence from a field experiment

Bibliometric studies show that male academics are more productive than their female counterparts and that the gap cannot be explained in terms of difference in abilities. In this project we wish to verify the hypothesis that this tendency is related to the greater support that men receive from their colleagues (“old boys network”). Towards this end we had e-mails sent by a male or female student asking academics for a minor favour. In Study 1 we asked authors of nearly 300 papers in experimental economics to share the raw data used in their study. We observed no difference in response rate or compliance rate between male and female senders. In Study 2 we sent 2775 e-mails to academics affiliated with prestigious schools from ten different fields, asking to either send us a copy of their recent article or meet the sender supposedly interested in pursuing a PhD program. Once again we manipulated gender of the senders but this time we also varied their physical attractiveness. We found a small but significant difference in the Article Treatment: attractive females’ requests were honoured less often. No such tendency was found in the Meeting Treatment and no general gender effect was observed. Overall, we find very little support for the claim that early-stage male researchers enjoy greater support than their female colleagues.