SPACE researchers presented their work at SASE Conference 2021 (online)

Matthias Aistleitner, Dominik Kronberger and Jakob Kapeller presented their paper “The authors of top economics journals revisited” which is a replication study of Hodgson and Rothman’s (1999) earlier analysis on the geographical and institutional concentration of authors and editors of 30 highly prestigious economics journals. Unlike Hodgson and Rothman (herafter H&R) who focus on a single period (1995), they analyze a large-scale sample over a period of almost three decades (1990-2018). More specifically, the data sample consists of more than 53,000 papers published by more than 41,000 authors in a set of 31 high-impact economic journals. Furthermore, they draw on a random sample of 3,409 authors in order to analyze the PhD-granting institutions of the authors under study.

Overall, the findings confirm the long-term persistence of strong oligopolistic structures in both terms of author and PhD affiliations. For instance, they find a strong agreement between the data presented by H&R for 1995 and their own data (see Figure 1). When asking for the exact composition of the top30 institutions in the replication data, they find a significant overlap with the top30 institutions identified by H&R– more precisely, 21 of the institutions identified as top30 by H&R also are within the top30 in the replication sample and all of H&R’s top30 are positioned within the top100 in the extended data. This persistence also maps unto a geographical level as the large majority of these institutions covered is based in the US and none is located outside the anglo-saxon countries.

Figure 1. Most important affiliations in top economics journals: H&R vs. replication

On the aggregated level, author affiliations their sample of top economic journals are highly concentrated among a small set of prestigious US-based elite universities (see Figure 2): Almost a quarter of all weighted affiliations in our sample stem from only 20 institutions; that is, on average, every fourth article in our top30 journals is produced by this set of 20 institutions.

Figure 2: Top10 institutions with the greatest share of authorships.

In the case of PhD-granting institutions, the picture is quite similar in terms of institutions, although the magnitude of concentration is larger in general (Figure 3). More than 40 percent of all authors in their sample received their graduation at one of 10 highly prestigious economics departments (thereof nine are located in the US).

Figure 3. Most prominent/important PhD-granting institutions.

Finally, Figure 4 provides an overview of the development of institutional concentration over time. 

Figure 4. Presence of the most important institutions in top5 and top30 journals over time

While in the top 30 journals the share of top institutions appears to be slightly decreasing in the past 15 years or so, the share of the most dominant institutions within the subset of the prominent “Top5” journals remains quite stable or has even seen a slight increase in the level of concentration. The overall findings confirm the long-term persistence of strong oligopolistic structures in both terms of author and PhD affiliations, still posing a threat for the development of innovative research in economics. 

The case of economics publishing further demonstrates how competition in research (getting published in a top journal) is shaped by social institutions. Given the close institutional ties of a few elite economics departments (e.g. Harvard, Chicago) with the most prestigious outlets (e.g. QJE, JPE), the results cast some doubt on the simplistic Null-hypothesis that it is only quality that matters. Rather, institutional prestige (both author affiliation and PhD-granting institution) might serve as a suitable „signal“ that influences the probability of getting published in the discipline’s most prestigious outlets.

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