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In spite of a government mandate, females are often treated as afterthoughts in scientific research.
- A new study finds that though more females are included in experiments, sex-specific data often goes un-analyzed.
- Only about a third of studies analyzed published participant breakdown by sex.
- Some researchers say considering females more fully as research subjects is logistically too challenging.
In 2016, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a directive that scientists receiving NIH funding must consider sex as a biological variable in pre-clinical research on vertebrate animals and human cells and tissues. According to a new study published in eLife that looked at over 700 journal articles, the number of women included as participants in pre-clinical research has jumped from 28 percent in 2009 to 49 percent in 2019. However, it's also unfortunately still the case that few studies actually consider sex as a biological influence that may potentially affect outcomes, and that data from women participants continues to be simply combined with data from men.
Study co-author Nicole C. Woitowich of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine tells INSIDE Higher Ed, "In the last 10 years, there has been a major in increase in sex inclusion, but it's still not where it's needs to be."
What's missing in current research
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Woitowich and others see two particularly problematic aspects to the continuing disregard of sex as a meaningful biological research variable.
First, female-specific data is rarely considered in study conclusions, despite the fact that it may have implications for women's health. According to L. Syd M Johnson of SUNY Update Medical University, who was not involved with the study, "This becomes highly problematic both scientifically and ethically, because women, children, and the elderly also need medical care, and they shouldn't be treated as if they have adult, male bodies. When they are excluded from research, and from the reported results, treatment for them becomes, effectively, off-label.
Second, Woitowich tells INSIDE Higher Ed it's, "troublesome to me as a scientist [that] a little under one-third [of studies] did not even report the number of males and females used as subjects." This makes it impossible for scientists to replicate the results. "If I don't have all the information," Woitowich says, "I'm left guessing."
On top of that, Woitowich laments that too much of the female-focused research that is undertaken is what's been called "bikini science," research surrounding issues related to female reproductive organs.
Why is this happening?
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"Many scientists, I don't even know if this is on their radar," says Woitowich. She proposes, therefore, that in the short term it may be the research gatekeepers — the funding entities, journal editors, and peer reviewers — who will have to step up and demand more inclusive science. She expresses surprise that they aren't already doing more to enforce the NIH's mandate. In the longer term, training for medical students should include a fuller awareness of the role that can be played by sex differences in research.
In a 2014 letter to the journal Nature, Janine A. Clayton and Francis S. Collins of the NIH admitted the problem even extends to female researchers. Noting that roughly half of the scientists doing NIH-funded research are women: "There has not been a corresponding revolution in experimental design and analyses in cell and animal research — despite multiple calls to action."
Another possible explanation
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There are some researchers who feel that a greater inclusion of women and their data in studies would unnecessarily complicate the problems inherent in designing research and getting it funded.
In a 2015 letter to the journal Science, a group of researchers wrote that sex considerations added an additional investigational layer to research, one that was often irrelevant to the purpose of a research project. They asserted that, "nonhypothesis-driven documentation of sex differences in basic laboratory research is more likely to introduce conceptual and empirical problems in research on sex and gender than bring new clarity to differences in men's and women's health outcomes."
The writers also suggested that sex may be less of a biological variable than gender and weight. If, for example, women are more likely to be taking multiple pharmaceuticals than men and tend to be lighter in weight, these factors may be more influential on experiment outcomes than sex. Reluctant to commit to considering sex as a variable, they suggested instead two generalized studies to determine if it should be, writing, "we see a stronger empirical basis for directed funding initiatives in two areas: scientific validation of preclinical models for studying human sex differences, and human studies of the interaction of sex- and gender-related variables in producing health outcomes that vary by sex."
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A 2019 analysis by Harvard University's GenderSci Lab found that basic science researchers, "repeated again and again that their experiments were in large part constrained by practicalities of various sorts. These practicalities were often used to explain why they don't or can't account for sex in their research," says the lab's Annika Gompers. Among the practicalities noted were the acquisition of study materials such as cells from deceased patients, test animals, fat from cosmetic surgery patients, and so on. Gompers said researchers often simply work with what they can get.
She adds, "While my participants recognize that considering sex can be important for the generalizability of results, in practice it is often impractical if not impossible to incorporate sex as a variable into biomedical research. Such a finding is consistent with scholars who have long looked at science as practice and observed how practicalities — as mundane as the availability of materials — are often central to the reduction of complexity into 'doable problems.'"
As far as sample composition goes, the choice of subjects may have to do with researchers wanting to avoid the constraints and costs of the safety regulations that accompany studies of pregnant women, women of child-bearing age whom may become pregnant, children, and the elderly.
Finally, though it may be that having enough females in a sample to draw valid conclusions would likely require larger participant cohorts. Woitowich's co-author, Smith College's Anneliese Beery, says that fears of doubled sample sizes are overblown, asserting that such increases in participant numbers would be "not actually necessary."
Avoiding wasted research opportunities
One of the authors of that Science letter was Harvard's Sarah S. Richardson, who suggests a sort of middle path, though it does give researchers license to ignore the NIH requirement as they see fit. Richardson proposes something she calls "sex contextualism," which is the "simple view that the definition of sex and sex-related variables, and whether they are relevant in biological research, depends on the research context."
Science journalist Angela Saini agrees , saying, "While it's valuable to include a broad spectrum of people in studies, it doesn't necessarily follow that the sex differences will be significant or important. So disaggregating for sex, while useful sometimes, doesn't always matter."
The above points, however, don't seem to acknowledge the potential for findings important specifically to female health, and seem more concerned with protecting the efficacy of studies that benefit males.
In any event, Woitowich finds that things are progressing more slowly than the NIH and others may have hoped. While Beery says it's "exciting to see increased inclusion of female subjects across so many different fields of biology," there are potentially meaningful scientific insights being lost. The disinclination toward fully collecting and analyzing female data for research experiments "means we are still missing out on the opportunity to understand when there are sex differences and losing statistical power when sex differences go unnoticed."
Women and girls must be front and centre of coronavirus response and recovery.
Evidence shows that disease outbreak affects women and men differently, that pandemics exacerbate inequalities for girls and women, who are also often the hardest hit, and that women play an outsize role responding to crises, including as frontline healthcare and social workers, caregivers at home, and as mobilizers in their communities.
A 12-year long study examines the differences between how same-sex and different-sex couples argue, with some surprising results.
- A 12-year long study by the Gottman Institute examines the differences between how same-sex couples and different-sex couples resolve conflicts.
- Overall, the relationship satisfaction and quality were about the same across all couple types (gay, straight, lesbian). However, the study did find some differences in how same-sex and different-sex couples argue, including using humor to diffuse tense situations, not taking things so personally during an argument, and offering encouragement rather than criticism.
- No matter the relationship, there are key points to be taken away from this research in how we can all strive for healthier conflict resolution in romantic relationships.
Heterosexual couples show higher levels of physiological distress during arguments than same-sex couples, impacting their ability to stay calm.
Photo by B-D-S Piotr Marcinski on Shutterstock<p><strong>Same-sex couples use fewer controlling and hostile tactics during disagreements.</strong></p><p>Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues discovered that, during a disagreement, same-sex couples are less likely to display belligerence or domineering attitudes than heterosexual couples. </p><p>"The difference in these 'control' related emotions suggests fairness and power-sharing between the partners is more important and more common in gay and lesbian relationships than in straight ones," Gottman explains. </p><p><strong>Things don't get as personal in same-sex disagreements. </strong></p><p>"In a fight," Gottman says, "gay and lesbian couples take it less personally. In straight couples, it is easier to hurt a partner with a negative comment than to make one's partner feel good with a positive comment. This appears to be reversed in gay and lesbian couples." </p><p>This trend suggests that same-sex couples are able to disagree without taking things personally, whereas straight couples are more likely to be offended when their partner comes to them with a conflict.</p><p><strong>Same-sex couples show low levels of physiological arousal, different-sex couples show higher levels during conflict. </strong></p><p>According to Gottman's observations, unhappy gay and lesbian couples were less likely to show visible signs of aggravation such as elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, and jitteriness. Different-sex couples, on the other hand, had elevated physiological symptoms that signify they may have trouble calming down in order to resolve the conflict constructively. </p><p><strong>Same-sex couples are more likely to try to offer encouragement rather than criticism or lecturing when it comes to lifestyle choices.</strong></p><p>Your partner can have a very positive or very negative impact on your lifestyle. Gottman's study isn't the only research available that examines the differences in same-sex and different-sex marriages. </p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30052080/" target="_blank">A later (2018) study</a> suggests that same-sex couples are much more likely to try to influence each other's lifestyle habits (good or bad) with praise or encouragement. The opposite can be said for different-sex couples who tend to lecture or criticize to prove their point. </p>
Simple ways every couple can strive towards healthier conflict resolution skills<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3MTAwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjM3MjA1MX0.OaArbSg4ARcW43Qym-S9g8uEBNIr_WOgT87Fe7gQ7i8/img.jpg?width=980" id="b4e0a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="94dc27cb278e8eb5fe17baadb0613c23" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="two men consoling each other after an argument concept of same-sex conflict resolution" />
There are simple ways you and your partner can strive for healthier conflict resolutions in your relationship.
Photo by ArtOfPhotos on Shutterstock<p>While these differences in same-sex and different-sex marriages are important and interesting to observe, there are a few universal goals that should be placed on any couple trying to better themselves by striving for healthier conflict resolutions. </p><p><strong>Recognize your differences and take space from the other person when you need to.</strong></p><p>Each person brings their own experiences, opinions, values, and beliefs to the relationship. Acknowledging that you are two different people who are bound to disagree on things is a healthy part of any relationship. </p><p>Accepting and even appreciating those differences for what they can bring to your relationship should be something every couple - gay or straight - should keep in mind, especially during conflicts.</p><p>Julie S. Gottman, Ph.D. explains: "If you find that your heart is pounding during an argument, take a break. If you need to leave, you should explain when you're going to come back and rejoin the conversation. During the time when you're apart, don't think about the fight. Instead, practice something that is self-soothing (like reading a book) so that your body can calm down."</p><p><strong>Positivity and laughter might be more important than ever during disagreements.</strong></p><p>While it may feel strange to crack a joke during an argument, this 2003 study suggests that one of the reasons same-sex arguments may be healthier is because there is an air of humor and positivity to them. It's important to end a disagreement on a positive note, and same-sex couples do this far more often than different-sex couples, according to Dr. Gottman's research. </p><p><strong>Equality, understanding, and respect should be paramount in any relationship.</strong></p><p>Perhaps one of the reasons same-sex couples are able to resolve conflicts in a healthier way is because they aren't tied to traditional societal roles or the ideas of how they are "supposed" to relate to each other. This kind of freedom allows the couple to create their own dynamic. When possible, try to understand or sympathize with the other person's point of view. If you have two very different opinions on something, attempt to communicate your side respectfully and, perhaps more important, really listen to and acknowledge their feelings.</p><p>Respect and understanding are two crucial ingredients to a healthy relationship and these are things every couple should strive for.<br></p>
Sexuality is fluid and it's important that people get to define it for themselves.
- Sexuality is fluid and ever-changing, and our understanding of it has come a long way since the invention of the Kinsey Scale in the 1940's.
- Defining your own sexuality is important as it is a uniquely personal experience.
- While creating labels for yourself can help you better understand your orientation and build connections along your sexual journey, it's important not to place labels on others. Be open to hearing how they see themselves and respectful enough to refer to them on those terms.
Defining lesser-known orientations along the spectrum<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE2OTIwOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTYxNzk5Mn0.NF95JhhXPcLdT5k6fMP54AQYvFdZiPK3aVQ90Wa9g0o/img.png?width=980" id="bfd51" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5d68bd6890a288fd97a3fb5e6724c78d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Unofficial Kinsey Scale test (an official test does not exist, according to the Kinsey Institute)
What factors explain the gender pay gap?
- The report was conducted by the investment firm Arjuna Capital, which has been publishing the Gender Pay Scorecard for the past three years.
- Only three companies — Starbucks, Mastercard and Citigroup — received an "A", as defined by the report's methodology.
- It's likely that discrimination explains part of the gender pay gap, but it's a complex issue that often gets oversimplified.
Arjuna Capital<p>Of the 50 companies, only three received an "A" score: Starbucks, Mastercard and Citigroup. Meanwhile, 25 companies received an "F", though it's worth noting that 11 of those 25 companies didn't disclose any data at all.</p><p>Arjuna says shareholders can help close the gender pay gap by pressuring companies to disclose gender pay data.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Investors have effectively used shareholder dialogues and proposals to move this process forward," the report states. "The continued growth of the gender and racial pay gap shareholder campaign, combined with an annual scorecard identifying industry leaders and laggards, will help improve corporate disclosure and practices, advancing the goal of pay equity."</p><p>Arjuna and other parity advocates especially want companies to disclose a specific measure of the gender pay gap: the unadjusted median pay gap, which is the raw difference between the median earnings of men and women. In contrast, the adjusted pay gap controls for factors like age, educational attainment, geography, hours worked and seniority. The adjusted pay gap is almost always narrower than the unadjusted version, so companies tend to prefer reporting this measure.</p>
Arjuna Capital<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Many of the companies in the GPS report both adjusted and unadjusted gaps, but only for U.K. operations," the report states. "In fact, the only companies to report both adjusted and unadjusted median global pay gap numbers are Citigroup, Starbucks and Mastercard."</p><p>For example, Citigroup reported that its adjusted pay gap was only 1 percent, but its global unadjusted median pay gap was much bigger at 27 percent. Starbucks had the lowest median pay gap, paying women 98.3 cents on the dollar versus men, while reporting an adjusted pay gap of zero.</p><p>Arjuna concluded its third annual Gender Pay Scorecard by emphasizing the importance of disclosing gender pay data:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The first step is for companies to analyze their current pay structures and disclose any gaps. Transparently addressing gender and racial pay gaps is essential to achieve pay equity and create more diverse companies."</p>
Does discrimination explain the gender pay gap?<p>It depends on whom you ask. Some say that the bulk of the disparity stems from gender discrimination. Skeptics of the gender pay gap say it's a total myth. Who's closer to the truth?<br></p><p>Obviously, it's complicated. There are many factors you could examine to find causes for the gap. For example, <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/07/for-female-scientists-theres-no-good-time-to-have-children/278165/" target="_blank">pregnant women have to take time off work</a>, and mothers — for complex reasons, some of which are cultural — tend to spend more time caring for children. Both help to lower women's overall earnings. Another potential cause lies in the <a href="https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/more-professionals-are-negotiating-salaries-than-in-the-past.aspx" target="_blank">body of research</a> showing that men are more likely than women to negotiate salaries.</p><p>But one of the most compelling explanations for the gender pay gap is the fact that men and women make different career choices. On the whole, research on earnings between the genders shows that men tend to choose jobs in higher-pay industries, work more hours, work more dangerous jobs, and prioritize earnings over work-life balance.</p><p>Researchers at Harvard University recently conducted a <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/bolotnyy/publications/why-do-women-earn-less-men-evidence-bus-and-train-operators-job-market-paper" target="_blank">study</a> on gender pay disparity that focused on train and bus operators. The researchers wrote:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Women value time away from work and flexibility more than men, taking more unpaid time off using the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and working fewer overtime hours than men. When overtime hours are scheduled three months in advance, men and women work a similar number of hours; but when those hours are offered at the last minute, men work nearly twice as many. When selecting work schedules, women try to avoid weekend, holiday, and split shifts more than men. To avoid unfavorable work times, women prioritize their schedules over route safety and select routes with a higher probability of accidents. Women are less likely than men to game the scheduling system by trading off work hours at regular wages for overtime hours at premium wages."</p><p>The findings align with a major <a href="https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/public-policy/hr-public-policy-issues/Documents/Gender%20Wage%20Gap%20Final%20Report.pdf" target="_blank">2009 study</a> conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, which examined more than 50 peer-reviewed papers on the nation's gender pay gap. It found that the gender pay gap disparity "may be almost entirely the result of individual choices being made by both male and female workers."</p>
U.S. Department of Labor<p>But that doesn't prove that gender discrimination is nonexistent in the workplace. After all, even statistically adjusted data shows a gender pay gap. Additionally, biased cultural forces may partly explain why women make certain career choices; for example, some <a href="https://money.cnn.com/2017/02/28/technology/girls-math-science-engineering/index.html" target="_blank">research</a> suggests that women are encouraged not to pursue careers in science and engineering at a young age.</p><p>So, how much does discrimination factor into the gender pay gap? It's hard to say. Some research has found discrimination to be responsible for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/22/gender-pay-gap-discrimination-found-to-be-most-significant-contributor-to-inequality" target="_blank">39 percent</a> of the gender pay gap, while others say discrimination accounts for just a few cents of the disparity. Gender discrimination is simply hard to quantify.</p><p>But what the research does conclusively show is that anyone who says the gender pay gap is completely a myth or completely a societal injustice is oversimplifying the issue. </p>