Gender-Specific Favoritism in Science

Why are women underrepresented in China’s most distinguished academic committees? We show that fewer women entered the recruitments of these committees, and social connections disproportionately influence male candidates’ success compared to their female counterparts.
Published in Social Sciences
Gender-Specific Favoritism in Science

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What is the matter?

Gender disparity in the realm of science has long been a disconcerting issue. Recent research by Bao and Huang (2022) reveals a concerning trend in Chinese top scientific committees where women are less likely to participate in elections and, even when they do, face additional challenges compared to their male counterparts. However, the impact of this disparity goes far beyond academia. Scientific committees, responsible for allocating research resources and shaping public projects, hold tremendous potential to benefit from greater female representation. Encouraging accomplished women to join these prestigious academies can infuse fresh perspectives, innovative techniques, and managerial prowess into real-world applications. As a result, knowledge advancement is amplified, resource allocation for public goods improves, and technological innovation in the economy receives a powerful boost. Embracing diversity in scientific pursuits not only drives progress but also fosters the development of inclusive infrastructure that ultimately benefits society at large.

An explanation for women’s underrepresentation

Cultural beliefs and stereotypes surrounding gender roles continue to influence interpersonal relationships in many countries, with potential implications reaching far beyond social interactions. Certain Chinese folktales perpetuate the notion that male friendships are inherently more loyal than female ones, inadvertently fostering biased treatment of male acquaintances. Bao and Huang (2023) use election data from the distinguished Chinese scientific groups, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, to reveal gender-specific favoritism in recruitment practices, with male candidates enjoying a higher likelihood of receiving fellowships.

Bao and Huang (2023) reveal that approximately 11% of male candidates were elected, compared to only 6% of female candidates. What is particularly striking is that male candidates with the same interpersonal relationships as female candidates, such as hailing from the same city or attending the same college as a recruitment committee member, significantly increased their chances of success. However, this advantage did not extend to female candidates.

This gender-specific favoritism has far-reaching consequences. Female candidates need significantly better objective academic achievements, such as higher publication and citation scores, to receive a fellowship. Most of such gender differences in success rates can be explained by men being treated more favorably for having connections with recruitment team members. The results suggest that gender differences in labor market outcomes can emerge even if men and women have the same professional network, and reducing favoritism may improve gender equality.


Gender-specific favoritism exists in scientific recruitment: social connections between recruiters and candidates can benefit men more than women, leading to gender-specific favoritism. Gender disparity is significant: The gender disparity caused by gender-specific favoritism is substantial and cannot be explained by other factors, such as the quality of peer candidates or the gender composition of recruitment teams. Women need better objective scientific achievements to succeed compared to their male counterparts due to gender-specific favoritism.


Our study contributes to the growing literature on gender bias, particularly prejudice against women, and highlights the need for addressing gender-specific favoritism in scientific recruitment processes. Policymakers and researchers should work towards enhancing gender neutrality in fellow recruitment to improve social fairness and the allocation of public resources. Additionally, the findings emphasize the importance of recognizing and addressing the role of interpersonal relationships and favoritism in professional settings, as they can significantly impact career success and contribute to existing gender disparities. Gender-specific favoritism in Chinese scientific recruitment practices is a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality in the workplace. It is essential to address and dismantle these biases and promote equal opportunities for all, regardless of gender.


Bao, Z., & Huang, D. (2022). Reform scientific elections to improve gender equality. Nature Human Behaviour, 6(4), 478-479.

Bao, Z., & Huang, D. (2023). Gender-Specific Favoritism in Science. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, forthcoming.


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