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Racial Disparities in NIH Funding

Background

A 2011 Science paper by Ginther et al. reported a significant racial gap in NIH R01 equivalent grant funding, illuminating a lack of diversity among investigators conducting NIH-supported biomedical research. After controlling for numerous confounding factors, a persistent gap in funding remained for African American/Black scientists, with the success rate for applications supporting African American/Black scientists about half that of non-Hispanic Whites. Similar disparities were apparent in NIH K-series career development awards.

In response, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), through its Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce, looked critically at the entire NIH ecosystem, making 13 recommendations to enhance the inclusion of individuals from underrepresented groups in biomedical research.

Narrowing the Funding Gap

The NIH began implementing the ACD’s recommendations in 2014. This work is ongoing, and the NIH is seeing promising evidence that the racial funding gaps are narrowing. The racial and ethnicity funding gap for K awards has been eliminated and based on most recent data (FY 20 and 21) appears to be narrowing for R01-equivalent awards (98% of which are R01s). Moreover, during the same period, the number of undergraduate students from underrepresented groups majoring in biomedical sciences increased dramatically in the United States.

Although these positive data trends signal the NIH’s ability to eliminate racial and ethnic funding gaps across all NIH grant mechanisms, the small pool of applicants from underrepresented groups for R01 grants is both a challenge and an opportunity for deriving targeted solutions.

The following figures and table show the latest funding rates and personal demographic data for Principal Investigators (PIs) for Research Program Grant (RPG) applicants.

View more data from the NIH Office of Extramural Research

Figure 1: Funding rates for Research Project Grant (RPG) Principal Investigators, (PIs) 1998-2021

graph showing the funding rates for applicants who are unique scientists designated by their institutions as PIs on at least one RPG application

Figure 1 shows the funding rates for applicants who are unique scientists designated by their institutions as PIs on at least one RPG application. Awardees are unique scientists designated by their institutions as PIs on at least one funded RPG application. The funding rate is the ratio of unique awardees to unique applicants.

Table 2: RPG PI Characteristics FY2021. Characteristics of scientists designated as Principal Investigators (PIs) on at least one Research Project Grant (RPG) application submitted to NIH in FY2021 according to self-designated race-ethnicity.

table presenting selected self-designated personal demographic information of FY2021 applicant PIs by race/ethnicity

Table 2 presents selected self-designated personal demographic information of FY2021 applicant PIs by race/ethnicity. Nearly 12% of respondents did not designate their race/ethnicity. Self-designated Black/African American PIs (comprising 2.6% of applicants) were more likely than White PIs to submit an application proposing human participant research, but less likely to submit an application proposing animal research.

Figure 2: Number of unique RPG applicants (scientists designated as PIs by their institutions on RPG applications submitted to NIH) FY2010-FY2021 according to self-designated race-ethnicity.

graph showing the absolute number of self-designated Black/African American and Hispanic applicants remained low between FY2010-FY2021

As shown in figure 2, the absolute number of self-designated Black/African American and Hispanic applicants remained low between FY2010-FY2021. This is consistent with data of underrepresented groups from the National Science Foundation. However, the data presented in figures 3 and 4 find a substantial increase in the relative number of Black/African American and Hispanic applicants, respectively.

Figure 3: Number of unique self-designated Black RPG applicants (scientists designated as PIs by their institutions on RPG applications submitted to NIH) FY2010-FY2021.

graph showing number of unique self-designated Black RPG applicants FY2010-FY2021

Figure 4: Number of unique self-designated Hispanic RPG applicants (scientists designated as PIs by their institutions on RPG applications submitted to NIH) FY2010-FY2021.

graph showing number of unique self-designated Hispanic RPG applicants FY2010-FY2021

Figures 5 and 6 present funding for Type 1 RPG and Type 1 R01 PIs from FY2010-FY2021. The differences by race/ethnicity appear to narrow in the last two years of the data collection period.

Figure 5: Funding rates for Type 1 Research Project Grant (RPG) Principal Investigators (PIs) 2010-2021 according to self-designated race-ethnicity.

graph showing rates for Type 1 Research Project Grant (RPG) Principal Investigators (PIs) 2010-2021 according to self-designated race-ethnicity

Figure 6: Funding rates for Type 1 R01 Principal Investigators (PIs) 2010-2021 according to self-designated race-ethnicity.

graph showing funding rates for Type 1 R01 Principal Investigators (PIs) 2010-2021 according to self-designated race-ethnicity

Published Research and Editorials