THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

HomeAbout The Teaching Economist Contact the Editor Support

Issue 9, Spring 1995

William A. McEachern, Editor

Most PH.D. Economists Don't Publish

In periodic surveys by the American Economic Association, members are offered a list and asked to identify their "two most important specialty areas." In the December 1993 survey, "teaching of economics" was, for the first time, offered as a specialty area. The survey was unclear whether "teaching of economics" constituted a research interest or simply a "specialty." Anyway, only 2.2% of those completing the survey identified "teaching of economics" as one of their two specialty areas.

Since such a tiny fraction of AEA members picked teaching, we might reasonably conclude that most members have other interests. About 38% of those completing the survey had non-academic positions, so they justifiably might express no interest in teaching. After excluding non-academic respondents, only 3.5% of academics expressed an interest in teaching, implying that 96.5% were interested in other specialty areas, presumably research. But a just-published study raises questions about the fruitfulness of all that research interest, at least as reflected by journal publications. E. Bruce Hutchinson and Terry L. Zivney, in the Winter 1995 issue of The Journal of Economic Education, examine the research productivity of Ph.D. economists drawn randomly from the annual AEA list of "degrees conferred in economics." The authors randomly selected 80 economists per year between 1969 and 1988, yielding a sample of 1,600 Ph.D. economists. They then tracked the publication records of these economists in 126 journals - a broad reflection of research outlets. The bottom line? Only 619, or 39% of the 1,600 economists, had published at least one article or note between 1969 and 1988. So only a minority had published even a single article or note during the twenty-year period. Of those with ten or more years beyond the Ph.D. (or an average of 15 years of experience), only 46% had published at least one article or note. Thus, the majority (54%) of veteran economists had not published a single article or note during the twenty years examined.

Given all we hear about "publish or perish," there is surprisingly little publishing going on. Since more than half of those averaging 15 years beyond the Ph.D. had not published even a single article or note, publishing would not appear integral to the practice of economics for the majority of academic economists. In light of this, we might ask why only 3.5% of AEA academic members identified teaching as one of their "specialty areas." Is it because, despite recent rhetoric to the contrary, there is a stigma associated with a professed interest in teaching? For example, a recent Ph.D. in economics who won a teaching award as a graduate student was advised not to list the award on his c.v. because it might signal a special interest in teaching - a message that could hurt his job prospects at research universities.

Top                                                                                                                                                                                          Next