VotD: The Changing Methodology of Economics

Sociologists often look at Economics and see a field dominated by rigid formal theorizing – utility-maximizing rational choice etc. Our image of economics often looks like an intermediate undergraduate textbook. But what’s actually going on at the forefront of the economics research frontier? This table from Hammermesh (2013)’s Six Decades of Top Economics Publishing: Who and How? shows some revealing trends in the methodology of economics from 1963 to present:

Hammermesh 2013

The big findings, as I see it, are the rapid decline in pure theory articles and the big increase in the use of proprietary data. Mid-20th century economics involved a lot of formal theorizing in both macro and micro (Samuelson’s program), and a lot of empirical research using newly available kinds of standardized data (e.g. the National Income and Product Accounts and their non-US equivalents). Now, empirical work is more likely to come from proprietary or experimental data than secondary sources. Finally, though there is an uptick in experimental studies, they are a pretty small fraction of papers still.

For more fun facts about econ journal publishing, see also Card and DellaVigna (2013) Nine Facts about Top Journals in Economics. Also, kudos to the AEA for releasing the full-text of JEL articles for free!