Mathematical model of gender bias and homophily in professional hierarchies

Sara M. Clifton, Kaitlin Hill, Avinash J. Karamchandani, Eric A. Autry, Patrick McMahon, Grace Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Women have become better represented in business, academia, and government over time, yet a dearth of women at the highest levels of leadership remains. Sociologists have attributed the leaky progression of women through professional hierarchies to various cultural and psychological factors, such as self-segregation and bias. Here, we present a minimal mathematical model that reveals the relative role that bias and homophily (self-seeking) may play in the ascension of women through professional hierarchies. Unlike previous models, our novel model predicts that gender parity is not inevitable, and deliberate intervention may be required to achieve gender balance in several fields. To validate the model, we analyze a new database of gender fractionation over time for 16 professional hierarchies. We quantify the degree of homophily and bias in each professional hierarchy, and we propose specific interventions to achieve gender parity more quickly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number023135
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship No. DGE-1324585 and Mathways Grant No. DMS-1449269 (S.M.C.), Royal E.

Funding Information:
Cabell Terminal Year Fellowship (K.H. and E.A.A.), and the National Science Foundation Research Training Grant No. DMS-1547394 (A.J.K.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Author(s).


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