To Get Published or Not to Get Published: Challenges and Opportunities in Economics from 1970 to Present.

Nine Facts about Top Journals in Economics

David Card (University of California, Berkeley) (

Stefano della Vigna (University of California, Berkeley) (


How has publishing in top economics journals changed since 1970? Using a data set that combines information on all articles published in the top-5 journals from 1970 to 2012 with their Google Scholar citations, we identify nine key trends. First, annual submissions to the top-5 journals nearly doubled from 1990 to 2012. Second, the total number of articles published in these journals actually declined from 400 per year in the late 1970s to 300 per year most recently. As a result, the acceptance rate has fallen from 15% to 6%, with potential implications for the career progression of young scholars. Third, one journal, the American Economic Review, now accounts for 40% of top-5 publications, up from 25% in the 1970s. Fourth, recently published papers are on average 3 times longer than they were in the 1970s, contributing to the relative shortage of journal space. Fifth, the number of authors per paper has increased from 1.3 in 1970 to 2.3 in 2012, partly offsetting the fall in the number of articles per year. Sixth, citations for top-5 publications are high: among papers published in the late 1990s, the median number of Google Scholar citations is 200. Seventh, the ranking of journals by citations has remained relatively stable, with the notable exception of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which climbed from fourth place to first place over the past three decades. Eighth, citation counts are significantly higher for longer papers and those written by more co-authors. Ninth, although the fraction of articles from different fields published in the top-5 has remained relatively stable, there are important cohort trends in the citations received by papers from different fields, with rising citations to more recent papers in Development and International, and declining citations to recent papers in Econometrics and Theory.

Keywords: Publications, Top-5 Journals, Economics


Review by Anna Missiaia

This working paper was distributed by nep-his on 2013-01-12 and contains some information that might be of use to academics engaged in economics related disciplines. In particular, it should be read by young and mid-career academics whose future is still highly dependent on the number of their publications and the ranking of the journals where they publish. This survey by David Card and Stefano della Vigna, both from the Department of Economics of UC Barkeley, provides several facts and comments about articles published in top economics journals from 1970 to today.

The paper considers the top-5 economics journals, namely the American Economic Review (AER), Econometrica (EMA), the Journal of Political Economy (JPE), the Quarterly Journal of Economics (QJE), and the Review of Economic Studies (RES). All the articles published between 1970 and 2012 have been tracked looking at the number of authors, the length of the article and the number of citations. The number of submissions to each journal from 1990 onwards has been collected as well in order to compute acceptance rates.  The first two facts that emerge from this article are that the number of submissions per year almost doubled between 1990 and 2012 and that of articles published declined from 400per year to 300 per year. These first two facts will appear particularly grim to those who are in the early stages of their academic career, as they boil down to a decrease of acceptance rate from 16% to 6% today. However, this tendency is contrasted by a rise of the average number of co-authors from 1.3 to 2.3 in the same period. Finally, the length of the articles has increased three-fold from 1970 to today.

David Card – Class of 1950 Professor of Economics (UC Berkeley)

These first three facts are worth to be analysed together. It is the opinion of card and Della Vigna that the increase of the number of co-authors is a response to the more restrictive policy by journals on publication. The reason for teaming-up is that publications with one or multiple authors have the same weight in terms of career. Therefore, if acceptance rate decreased, the number of papers authored by each scholar has decreased less than that. The dramatic increase of the length of articles is interpreted by the authors as an improvement in the quality of research, which is due to both more selectivity and to joint work of scholars. Moving to the citations front, the readers will be glad to hear that whenever they will manage to get published on a top-5 journal,  this will make them extremely popular, although it will take a while. Papers published today have a lower number of citations compared to the ones published in the in the 1990s, which reminds us that it takes years to accumulate citations. However, if you compare the papers published in the 1970s to those of the 1990s, they have fewer citations. This is probably  a sign of the quality increase in papers that we have seen from the 1990s onwards. The ranking of journals in terms of citations has been fairly stable over the past decades, suggestion a sort of stickiness in the relative reputation of journals (the notable exception is the QJE that climbed four positions and became first). The last fact to report is that the number of citations depends on the field: more empirical fields (Development and International Economics) tend to have more citations from recent papers while more theoretical fields (Econometrics and Economic Theory) still have more citations from older papers.

Stefano Dellavigna – Professor of Economics (UC Berkley)

In conclusion, this survey on publications on the top-5 journals in economics tells us that publishing has become tougher,  it requires higher quality of the papers, longer papers and collaboration among scholars to pass the harsh judgements of referees and editors of these journals. However, the glory received from the publication in terms of citations and career seems to be worth the suffering.


3 thoughts on “To Get Published or Not to Get Published: Challenges and Opportunities in Economics from 1970 to Present.

  1. Fred Lee

    The top five journals referred to in the article/review have two characteristics: (1) they are mainstream economic journals, and (2) they generally publish authors who have graduated or employed by the top ten mainstream economics departments. This tight relationship is certainly evident for the QJE and JPE. Ever since Diamond’s list of ‘diamond’ journals in 1989 and the subsequent research assessment exercises around the world, economists not associated with the top departments have been pressured in trying to get published in these journals where one could argue they do not belong because they are associated with a lower class of economics departments. So it is not surprising that the journals acceptance rates have fallen. The class nature that defines both the top journals and top economics departments and their interrelationships should have been explored by the reviewer. The first point of being mainstream journals raises the following query: if one is a heterodox economist then one would not publish in mainstream journals (largely because mainstream journals just reject their papers because they are not really economics), but rather publish in heterodox journals–such as the Cambridge Journal of Economics, Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Review of Radical Political Economics, the Journal of Economic Issues, and Economy and Society. The issues about publishing in these journals may be different than the ones discussed in the paper and noted by the reviewer. However, the reviewer seems to suggest that only the issues associated with the five journals mentioned in the paper are the only issues that economists should be concerned/aware of. It would have been nice if the reviewer had at least acknowledged that these issues may be only relevant to those few economists that reside in the top departments. However, it is safe to say that the difficulty of heterodox economists publishing in the top heterodox journals is on par with the difficulty that mainstream economists face in publishing in the top mainstream journals–and the research quality of the articles in both sets of journals are the same but different.


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