Author-Reviewer Homophily in Peer Review


$<$p$>$The fairness of scholarly peer review has been challenged by evidence of disparities in publication outcomes based on author demographic characteristics. To assess this, we conducted an exploratory analysis of peer review outcomes of 23,876 initial submissions and 7,192 full submissions that were submitted to the biosciences journal eLife between 2012 and 2017. Women and authors from nations outside of North America and Europe were underrepresented both as gatekeepers (editors and peer reviewers) and authors. We found evidence of a homophilic relationship between the demographics of the gatekeepers and authors and the outcome of peer review; that is, there were higher rates of acceptance in the case of gender and country homophily. The acceptance rate for manuscripts with male last authors was seven percent, or 3.5 percentage points, greater than for female last authors (95% CI = [0.5, 6.4]); this gender inequity was greatest, at nine percent or about 4.8 percentage points (95% CI = [0.3, 9.1]), when the team of reviewers was all male; this difference was smaller and not significantly different for mixed-gender reviewer teams. Homogeny between countries of the gatekeeper and the corresponding author was also associated with higher acceptance rates for many countries. To test for the persistence of these effects after controlling for potentially confounding variables, we conducted a logistic regression including document and author metadata. Disparities in acceptance rates associated with gender and country of affiliation and the homophilic associations remained. We conclude with a discussion of mechanisms that could contribute to this effect, directions for future research, and policy implications. Code and anonymized data have been made available at$<$/p$>$