As every college student knows, when writing an academic paper, you have to cite all the sources you used while researching it. This is both to acknowledge that you didn’t come up with these ideas all on your own, and to give your argument weight by showing that it has support.
Writers of scholarly articles want their work to be cited often, since it shows that other academics, and students, think that their work is relevant. As it happens, universities are willing to pay professors more if their articles are regularly cited.
So when academics are looking for a source for a new paper, or looking to increase the number of times previous work has been cited, they can simply cite themselves. Especially for experts in relatively small or unknown fields where there are few experts, scholars won’t have much of a choice, so there’s nothing wrong with doing so (but please don’t try this in English 101).
This new study examined 1.5 million research articles available in the online database JSTOR. Out more than 8 million citations in those papers, approximately 775,000 citations were the author citing previous work of their own. One individual’s work was cited over seven thousand times. One fifth of those citations were the guy citing himself.
The study found a large discrepancy between male and female academics’ citation practices, noting that, “Over the years between 1779-2011, men cite their own papers 56 percent more than women do,” and that the difference gets larger with time, since, “In the last two decades of our data, men self-cite 70 percent more than women.”
This pattern is clearly visible in all the fields analyzed in the study. It’s even present in the study itself, where the two male authors cited their own work three times more often than the three female authors.
The authors of the study offered a few explanations for the pattern, including previous studies that show that men often have better perceptions of their own competence relative to women, and they don’t face the negative consequences that women do for promoting themselves and their work. Basically, when dudes think they’re awesome, people tend to agree. But when women are confident in their intelligence and abilities, people want to take them down a notch. No wonder women are wary of citing themselves.
Whatever the reason for the citation discrepancy, it has a serious negative impact on women’s careers, since more citations equals more opportunity.