Effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic productivity

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Contributors: Tatyana Deryugina

Thus far, the literature on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic productivity has concluded that parents of young children, especially mothers, have see their time spent on research decline much more compared to men and academics without children or with older children. Studies of publication and pre-print patterns do not find a decrease in average publication levels. Heterogeneity analyses of publication patterns have shown less muted effects than analyses of time use, perhaps because of significant lags between project completion, pre-prints, and publication, or perhaps due to other adjustments impacted researchers made (e.g., decreasing time spent on peer review). Analysis of COVID-19 research has consistently shown that women are less likely to be authors of such papers compared to other papers.

Published papers

Survey/interview evidence

Myers et al. (2020)[1] conducted a survey of US and European researchers in April of 2020. 4,535 completed responses were obtained. Reported weekly work time declined by 7 hours relative to pre-pandemic, and time spent on research fell by 24%. The decline in research time was larger among scientists in laboratory fields, among women, and among parents of young children (<12 years old).

Barber et al. (2021)[2] surveyed members of the American Finance Association (AFA) in October of 2020, asking them to evaluate how the pandemic has affected their research productivity and time spent on research. They find that self-reported research productivity declined more among parents, particularly mothers. Parents of younger children (between 0 and 5 years old) were more negatively affected.

Deryugina, Shurchkov, and Stearns (2021)[3] conducted a survey of academics in May-June of 2020, asking about time typically spent on a variety of activities both before and after the COVID-19 disruptions. They document that time spent on research declined on average for both male and female academics following the COVID-19 pandemic but more so for female academics. Declines in research time were concentrated among academics with dependent children living at home and were larger for mothers. Finally, parents of younger children, especially mothers, experienced larger declines in time spent on research than either parents of older children or childless academics.

Kasymova et al. (2021)[4] conducted a survey and interviews in June-August of 2020 with part-time or full-time academics in the United States who identify as female and have a child aged 10 or under. The survey sample consisted of 131 participants. Reported time spent on childcare, schooling, and other household responsibilities increased by 7.5 hours per regular workday while time spent on research and other academic work fell by 2.1 hours.

Krukowski, Jagsi, and Cardel (2021)[5] conducted a survey of 284 US STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) faculty from mid-March through mid-May of 2020. Female faculty reported submitting fewer articles following the onset of the pandemic, while men did not. Faculty of both genders with young children(0-5 years old) submitted fewer first-authored articles, did less peer review, and attended fewer funding panels. The authors did not analyze interactions between gender and age of children.

Shalaby, Allam, and Buttorff (2021)[6] conducted a survey (June-July 2020) and interviews with political scientists. The survey sample consisted of 170 political scientists while interviews were conducted with 15 political scientists. Both male and female political scientists reported spending less time on research during the pandemic, but women were more likely to do so. Parents, especially mothers, reported larger declines in research hours.

Staniscuaski et al. (2021)[7] surveyed 3,345 Brazilian academics. Participants reported whether they were submitting manuscripts as planned during the pandemic. Parents and women were substantially less likely to report submitting manuscripts as planned compared to childless men. Black men and women were less likely to report submitting manuscripts as planned than their white counterparts.

Evidence from publication data

Amano-Patiño et al. (2020)[8] analyze publication data from the NBER Working Papers Series, the CEPR Discussion Paper Series, and Covid Economics (a new repository for Covid-related publications). They document that the share of female authors has remained fairly stable among the first two pre-print series (about 20%) but is substantially lower in the Covid Economics repository (12%).

Andersen et al. (2020)[9] analyze the gender of authors of 1,893 pandemic-related medical papers published in 629 journals in January-June of 2020 where the first and/or last author is from the United States. Compared to 85,373 papers published in the same journals in 2019, women were 19% less likely to be first authors on pandemic-related papers, especially those published in March-April of 2020. Last authorships and overall authorships were not statistically different from 2019.

Cui, Ding, and Zhu (2021)[10] analyze pre-prints posted on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) from 14 weeks before the US lockdown to up to ten weeks after. Using a difference-in-difference approach, they estimate that female academics' research productivity fell by 13.2 percent compared to that of male academics in the first ten weeks of the US lockdown. Overall productivity increased by 35%, however.

King and Frederickson (2021)[11] analyze pre-prints submitted to arXiv and bioRxiv between January and June of 2020. Pre-prints submitted between March 15 and April 15, 2019 serve as controls in some of the analyses. The authors analyze a total of 149,124 pre-prints. In arXiv, the probability of the last author being male increased by 10.6% between March 15-April 15 of 2019 and March 15-April 15 of 2020, while the probability of the last author being female increased by only 0.6%. In bioRxiv, the same increase was +28.2% for men and +18.6% for women. Other metrics (probability of first authorship, solo authorship, and middle authorship) often showed slightly higher increases for me, but the differences were substantially smaller than that for last authorships.

Bondi et al. (2021)[12] analyze the universe of administrative records from four top agricultural economics journals (American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Food Policy, and the Journal of Agricultural Economics) from January 1, 2018 to July 31, 2020. They find that the COVID-19 pandemic led to substantial increases in manuscript submissions, and the share of female authors remained stable, indicating that the pandemic did not have a disproportionate impact on their submission behavior. However, female reviewers were eight percentage points more likely to decline a review invitation in the early stages of the pandemic.

Working papers

Kruger, Maturana, and Nickerson (2020)[13] analyze papers uploaded to SSRN by academics from top-50 economics and finance departments. The annualized submission rate increased to 1.5 papers per year in January-October of 2020, a 35% increase compared to the pre-period, which extends back to July of 2016. COVID-19 papers explain a part but not all of this increase. The productivity increases were widespread but particularly large for researchers from top-10 departments and academics under the age of 35. Women experienced lower productivity increases than men; this gap is explained by women aged 35-49, for whom productivity did not increase. Consistent with the possibility that young children at home prevented this group from experiencing productivity gains, the authors document that women aged 35-49 had higher productivity increases in the fall of 2020 if they were from states that opened up schools to in-person learning.

Muric, Lerman, and Ferrara (2020)[14] analyze papers posted on bioRxiv and medRxiv or published in 62 selected Springer-Nature journals between January 1, 2019, and August 2, 2020. Women were 9.1% less likely to be first authors and 7.9% less likely to be last authors on such papers following the onset of the pandemic compared to what would be expected had authorship patterns followed the pre-pandemic trend. The decrease is larger for COVID-19 papers: women are 28% less likely to be first authors and 18.8% less likely to be last authors on such papers compared to expended overall trends.

Casey, Mandel, and Ray (2021)[15] analyze 1,475,914 pre-prints posted to arXiv between April 1, 2007 and May 31, 2021. The authors use publications from January 2015 through December 2019 to predict the expected monthly number of publications in each field. They conclude that the field-specific and overall number of papers posted to arXiv since January 2020 is in line with or greater than what was predicted. Some subfields, such as high-energy physics, experienced a decline in pre-prints. Quantitative biology papers numbered 50% more than expected, driven by COVID-related publications.

Gao et al. (2021)[16] conducted a survey of 6,982 European and US academics in January of 2021. Compared to a similar survey the authors administered in April of 2020, researchers reported smaller declines in weekly work hours (2.2 fewer hours per week, on average, compared to 7.1 fewer hours per week in April 2020). The self-reported and measured number of new submissions and new publications were slightly lower in 2020 compared to 2019. However, 27% of researchers reported starting no new projects in 2020 compared to only 8.9% in 2019, suggesting declines in future productivity. Being female and having young children (0-5 years old) are the most important predictors of changes in the probability of starting new projects.



  1. Myers, Kyle R., Wei Yang Tham, Yian Yin, Nina Cohodes, Jerry G. Thursby, Marie C. Thursby, Peter Schiffer, Joseph T. Walsh, Karim R. Lakhani, and Dashun Wang. 2020. "Unequal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientists." Nature Human Behaviour. Link
  2. Barber, Brad M., Wei Jiang, Adair Morse, Manju Puri, Heather Tookes, and Ingrid M. Werner. 2021. "What Explains Differences in Finance Research Productivity During the Pandemic?" The Journal of Finance. Link
  3. Deryugina, Tatyana, Olga Shurchkov, and Jenna Stearns. 2021. "Covid-19 disruptions disproportionately affect female academics." AEA Papers and Proceedings, 111. Link
  4. Kasymova, Salima, Jean Marie S. Place, Deborah L. Billings, and Jesus D. Aldape. 2021. "Impacts of the COVID‐19 Pandemic on the Productivity of Academics who Mother." Gender, Work & Organization. Link
  5. Krukowski, Rebecca A., Reshma Jagsi, and Michelle I. Cardel. 2021. "Academic productivity differences by gender and child age in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine faculty during the COVID-19 pandemic." Journal of Women's Health. Link
  6. Shalaby, M., Allam, N. and Buttorff, G.J., 2021. "Leveling the Field: Gender Inequity in Academia During COVID-19." PS: Political Science & Politics. Link
  7. Staniscuaski, Fernanda, Livia Kmetzsch, Rossana C. Soletti, Fernanda Reichert, Eugenia Zandonà, Zelia MC Ludwig, Eliade F. Lima et al. 2021. "Gender, race and parenthood impact academic productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic: from survey to action." Frontiers in Psychology. Link
  8. Amano-Patiño, Noriko, Elisa Faraglia, Chryssi Giannitsarou, and Zeina Hasna. 2020 "The Unequal Effects of Covid-19 on Economists' Research Productivity." Link
  9. Andersen, Jens Peter, Mathias Wullum Nielsen, Nicole L. Simone, Resa E. Lewiss, and Reshma Jagsi. 2020 "Meta-Research: COVID-19 medical papers have fewer women first authors than expected." elife. Link
  10. Cui, R., Ding, H. and Zhu, F., 2021. "Gender inequality in research productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic." Manufacturing & Service Operations Management. Link
  11. King, Molly M., and Megan E. Frederickson. 2021. "The Pandemic Penalty: The gendered effects of COVID-19 on scientific productivity." Socius. Link
  12. Bondi, Beatrice, Christopher B. Barrett, Mario Mazzocchi, Amy Ando, David Harvey, and Mindy Mallory. 2021. "Journal submissions, review and editorial decision patterns during initial COVID-19 restrictions." Food Policy. Link
  13. Kruger, Samuel, Gonzalo Maturana, and Jordan Nickerson. 2020. "How Has COVID-19 Impacted Research Productivity in Economics and Finance?" Working Paper. Link
  14. Muric, Goran, Kristina Lerman, and Emilio Ferrara. 2020. "Gender disparity in the authorship of biomedical research publications during the COVID-19 pandemic." arXiv preprint arXiv:2006.06142. Link
  15. Andrew R. Casey, Ilya Mandel, Prasun K. Ray. 2021. "The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic productivity." arXiv preprint arXiv:2109.06591 Link
  16. Jian Gao, Yian Yin, Kyle R. Myers, Karim R. Lakhani, Dashun Wang. 2021. "Loss of New Ideas: Potentially Long-lasting Effects of the Pandemic on Scientists" arXiv preprint arXiv:2107.13073. Link