Is There A Gender Pay Gap Among Academic Authors?

Kara and DorlingThe gender pay gap is much in the news at present. The BBC is under scrutiny following the resignation of its senior editor Carrie Gracie on the grounds of unequal pay; large companies in the UK pay women less than men; Iceland has just become the first country in the world to pass a law making it illegal to pay men more than women. I could cite plenty more instances. And this got me thinking: what is the situation for academic authors?

I belong to several Facebook groups for people in or connected with academia. In one group recently, a doctoral student in some financial difficulty – as so many doctoral students are – bemoaned the need to read a chapter from a book costing US$52. “Is this how academics make their money?” the student asked.

The idea that all people who write books are rich is a complete misperception. A few writers are rich, and some of them are women: JK Rowling and Jodi Picoult, to name just two. But they are not academic writers. Some academics who are writers are rich, but that’s mostly because they receive generous academic salaries. (NB: I’m not saying all academic salaries are generous. I’m saying rich academics are the ones on generous salaries, and some of them are also writers.)

In America writers are treated with more respect than in most countries. The Textbook & Academic Authors’ Association is open to members from any country but it is based in America and 80% of its members are American. In 2015 the T&AAA conducted a survey of 403 textbook authors which showed that average royalties were in the band of 9%–18%. So it seems there may be a geographic pay gap for academic writers, because this range is higher than academic royalties I have heard about from the UK. But there was no breakdown of the survey findings by gender.

My publishing contracts contain confidentiality clauses which make it illegal for me to tell you, or anyone else, what my own royalty rates are. This is standard practice in the publishing industry. I can tell you that one young British academic of my acquaintance recently told me, pre-contract, that they had been offered royalties of 7.5% on sales. If that person’s book retailed at US$52, you might think they would therefore earn US$3.90 per sale. Not so. Royalties are paid on the amount the bookseller pays to the publisher, not the amount the customer pays the bookseller. A book with a retail price of US$52 would probably sell to the retailer at around US$36, so the author’s royalty per sale would be US$2.70.

Many academic books retail for less than US$52. Mine are currently listed on at $39.93 for Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitioners (2nd edn) and $33.66 for Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences. Some retail for much more, though they are often edited collections. For example, the Sage Handbook of Applied Social Research Methods is an eye-watering $490.48. I have never heard of anyone earning anything for contributing a chapter to an edited collection. It seems likely that books at these prices are only bought by the libraries of rich institutions. (At least that means students and staff at those institutions can use the books, and a few other libraries provide wider access. For example, the British Library in the UK holds copies of every book published in the UK, and anyone can register to read those books for free. The snag is that you have to go to London, which isn’t easy or possible even for every UK resident, let alone people based further afield. Some other countries have national and regional libraries which are publicly accessible, but again they are bricks-and-mortar institutions and you have to go to them.)

Some publishing contracts offer no royalties at all on the first 250 or 500 (or some other figure) of books sold. Given that some academic books only sell a few hundred copies, these kinds of contracts could result in authors earning no royalties at all. I can’t find any reliable statistics about sales of academic books, which is a finding in itself.

I can tell you how much I earned in total royalties last year, on the two books I have in print, one of which is a second edition. For 2016-17 I earned £1,236.70 in royalties. Earlier this decade, Queen Mary University of London reported on the earnings of almost 2,500 professional writers in the UK. Academic writers had the lowest average annual income, at £3,826, behind travel writers, non-fiction writers, children’s fiction writers and adult fiction writers, respectively. I aspire to become average one day.

So publishing is not how academics make their money; it’s how academic publishers make their money. But is there a gender pay gap in academic authors’ royalties? With the current secrecy around royalty rates, there is no way of knowing. But given the prevailing interest in the gender pay gap, I hope that next time the Textbook and Academic Authors’ Association, or the Society of Authors, or a similar body conducts a survey, they will ask about, and report on, gender parity or disparity.

Creative Research Methods and Gender

gender not binaryLet me begin by saying that I know gender is not binary. In fact, it is probably not reducible to any system of categorisation or classification. I am well aware that some people are physically male but mentally and emotionally female, or vice versa, and that some of these people find this problematic and would choose a hormonal and surgical remedy. Other people, sometimes known as ‘cisgender’, are emotionally and mentally in accord with their physical gender. (I’m fine with this concept, I just wish it didn’t have such an ugly word for its label.) Some are androgynous, physically, or mentally and emotionally, or both. Others are ‘genderqueer’, ‘genderfluid’, ‘third-gender’, and so on. Some societies are more accepting of these diversities than others, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny their existence altogether.

Nevertheless, most people, in most social situations, talk happily about men and women. And I am going to do that in this post, though with an acknowledgement that ‘men’ or ‘women’ includes those deemed by society to be ‘men’ or ‘women’, who as individuals may be more or less happy or unhappy with the definition they are given.

I am a woman, physically, mentally, emotionally, and sometimes quite crossly when I think about how women are treated as second-class citizens in many ways in many parts of the world. We’ve come a long way, for sure, but we’re not there yet. Such as in academia where, for example, only 20% of professors are women, and 70% of fellows of the UK’s Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS) are men (yes, I counted all 1005 of them, just for you). Professors and AcSS fellows are also predominantly white.

I am a feminist, always have been, probably always will be. So I was delighted to be asked, last month, to speak on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. This programme is an institution. It is sometimes criticised as ‘tokenistic’ (why should women only get an hour?) or ‘discriminatory’ (why isn’t there a programme called Men’s Hour?’). But it has a large audience, of whom a big percentage is male, and it deals intelligently with topics of interest to many women – and evidently to many men too.

The subject of discussion on the programme, female sterilisation, is irrelevant here. What is relevant is that, even though it was a completely unrelated subject, the debate started me thinking about my latest book from a different angle. When I got home, I checked the 109 boxed examples – and found that 80% were generated by women researchers. This felt exciting. Was there, could there be, an area of research where women were at the forefront?

Then, being an ethical and reflexive researcher, I began to wonder whether I’d introduced a bias. After all, I had selected these examples from the many more I’d read. I thought I had selected them on merit, but had I really? My thoughts turned to the 94 abstracts received by the Social Research Association for presentations at the forthcoming conference on creative research methods. How many of those were led by women researchers? I counted up, and guess what? Eighty per cent. Just like the examples in my book. And non-white researchers have a sizeable presence too, both men and women.

Taimina crochetWomen are not just doing fluffy girly qualitative research, either. Have you heard of Daina Taimina? She succeeded, where men had failed for centuries, in modelling hyperbolic geometry. In case you haven’t heard of that either, it’s the geometry of frilly things, like kale or sea kelp or oak leaf lettuce. And it’s evidently really difficult to model, or someone would have worked it out before Taimina realised crochet was the perfect vehicle. I recommend her TED talk on the subject, it’s fascinating even if you know little or nothing about geometry. And women aren’t only using arts-based methods: both the book and the conference abstracts show that they’re also using technology in research, mixing methods to good effect, and working within transformative research frameworks.

So I think, in creative research methods, we have a field of enquiry where women are leading the way. And it’s not before time!