Women Have Significantly Less Influence on Twitter than Men in Academic Medicine

New research published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that among health policy and health care researchers, women, on average, have half as many followers on Twitter compared to their male counterparts.

To conduct this study, researchers used data presented at AcademyHealth’s 2018 Annual Research Meeting to identify 6,442 speakers and co-authors, searching each attendee’s degree(s), title/position, and gender. Twitter users were pinpointed by searching for each attendee’s Twitter profile and handle. They focused on US citizens with an MD, PhD, or equivalent degree that worked as independent non-trainee–level researchers.

Subsequently, they utilized Twitter’s Application Program Interface to extract metrics, focusing on each individual’s most recent 3,200 tweets while comparing average metric use between genders. An established language processing model was used to predict the gender of each users’ Twitter network – followers, as well as profiles they follow. Data were assessed using P values for comparisons of proportions and calculated data using χ2 tests with additional P values analyzed using a Wilcoxon signed rank test. Overall, 3,148 health care researchers were included in this study (53% women, 47% men).

A Gender Disparity Observed

According to the results of the study, women, on average, had used Twitter for fewer years than men (4.5 vs 5.1, P < .001) but had a similar number of original tweets per year (70.8 vs 98.1, P = .06) and followed a similar number of people (332.4 vs 375.3, P = .68). The researchers observed that women were more likely to follow other women than were men (54.8% vs. 42.6%). Overall, women were found to have significantly less influence on Twitter than their male counterparts with half the average number of followers as men (567.5 vs 1,162.3, P < .001)

Moreover, on average women’s tweets generated fewer likes and retweets per year (3,15.6 likes vs 577.6 likes and 207.4 retweets vs 399.8 retweets) and per tweet (3.8 [4.8] likes vs 4.5 [4.8] likes and 2.4 [2.2] retweets vs 3.1 [3.4] retweets) juxtaposed to men’s. The researchers observed the biggest gender disparities among full professors.

“Twitter is used frequently among health policy and health services researchers. Although it may be an effective way to gain professional visibility and career advancement opportunities, in this study, men had a greater Twitter audience compared with their female peers,” the research authors wrote in their conclusion.

However, encouragingly, they also noted that: “Our findings offer some bright spots. Similar rates of Twitter use between genders suggest that social media offers women opportunities for engagement, perhaps with fewer barriers than may be present in day-to-day academic interactions. Moreover, the differences in influence on Twitter were less pronounced among junior researchers, suggesting greater gender parity among younger cohorts.”

The authors added that: “Some have hoped that social media would help level the playing field in academic medicine by giving women an accessible and equitable platform on which to present themselves. However, our findings—that women’s voices on Twitter appeared to be less influential and have less reach than men’s—suggest that these forums may do little to improve gender parity and may instead reinforce disparities.”