Summary of JOIE article (16 September 2022) by Mathias Aistleitner, Jakob Kapeller, and Dominik Kronberger, Institute for Comprehensive Analysis of the Economy (ICAE), Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria. The full article is available on the JOIE website.
Reflections on the paper “The Authors of Economics Journals Revisited: Evidence from a Large-Scale Replication of Hodgson & Rothman (1999)” to be published in the Journal of Institutional Economics.
Publishing in high-ranked economic journals has become even more decisive in shaping career paths in the economics discipline over the last decades (see e.g. Heckman & Moktan 2020). Current regimes of research evaluation create a competitive environment in which economists strive for getting their research published in the discipline’s most prestigious outlets (Attema, Brouwer, and Van Exel 2014; Kapeller 2010; Serrano 2018). In the past, it has been argued that these path-dependent, hierarchical patterns in economics publishing also negatively impact on the conceptual and theoretical diversity found in economics in general and economic top journals in particular (Kapeller 2010; Stockhammer, Dammerer, and Kapur 2021).
An important contribution that preceded these critical debates is the study by Hodgson and Rothman (1999, hereafter H&R), who analyzed the institutional and geographical concentration of authors and editors of 30 top economic journals in 1995. More than twenty years ago they found a strong dominance of institutions located in the U.S., and, within that subset, a dominance of a small group of elite universities: more than half (54%) of the authors of articles published in these top 30 journals obtained their PhD degrees at one of twelve prestigious U.S. universities. At the same time, more than one fifth (21%) of authors in said journals were also affiliated with one of these universities. According to H&R, these findings have non-trivial implications for the development of the economics discipline since such an “institutional oligopoly” (H&R 1999) may prove detrimental for innovativeness in economic research. H&R employ the term “oligopoly” no in its textbook sense – a market with only a few potential suppliers –, but rather they refer to the idea that a small number of players can end up in a privileged institutional position by capturing core positions in relevant networks (‘gatekeeping-positions’). And indeed, recent literature has confirmed and supported some key intuitions of H&R’s original paper, like the observation that a huge share of influential papers comes from the US (e.g. Greenspon and Rodrik 2021).
In our paper we engage more directly with H&R’s original study by replicating their analysis for a larger data-set also covering economics discourse. In doing so, we aim to provide a large-scale and up-to-date picture on the current status of the alleged „institutional oligopoly” in economics publishing. We extend the original approach taken by H&R in three ways. First, we assemble a novel large-scale dataset focused on publications in top-journals and containing detailed data for all authors to be able to reproduce the analysis of H&R conceptually. Second, we aim to provide a more comprehensive analysis of top-level economic research by covering a broader set of high-impact journals. In this context we focus on affiliations and PhD-granting institutions of authors to document institutional concentration – an aspect that has received little attention in the literature since the publication of H&R’s original study. Third, we provide a more fine-grained methodology for correctly attributing authorships to affiliations to improve the precision of the underlying analysis.
Our results indeed confirm the long-term persistence of strong oligopolistic structures in terms of both, author affiliations as well as PhD-granting institutions. 83.3% of all author affiliations documented across the thirty journals studied relate to only 10% of all unique institutions with Harvard University being the most productive institution (2.78%) in these terms. The top five institutions (Harvard, Chicago, MIT, Stanford and Berkeley) alone are responsible for 9.4% of all (weighted) author-affiliation pairs appearing in our dataset. A similar result is obtained for PhD granting institutions, where the figures also point to a high level of concentration: 10% of all PhD-granting institutions have trained roughly 60% of all (unique) authors in our random sample. On the aggregated level, author affiliations in our dataset of top economic journals are highly concentrated among a small set of prestigious US-based elite universities: More than a quarter of all weighted affiliations in our dataset stem from only 20 institutions; that is, on average, every fourth article in our top 30 journals is produced by this set of 20 institutions.
Overall, we find a strong agreement between the data presented by H&R for 1995 and our own data (see Figure 1 for author affiliations), which covers a longer time-span and a more nuanced selection of ‘top journals’, which is less dependent on the relative prominence of journals as observed in the 1990s.
When identidying the exact composition of the top 30 institutions, we find a significant overlap with the top 30 institutions identified by H&R and our own estimates. This observation points to a strong persistence of institutional hierarchy in economics over the last decades, which also maps unto a geographical level as the large majority of the institutions covered is based in the US and none is located outside the anglo-saxon countries.