The World Bank’s publication record


The World Bank claims to be a “knowledge bank,” but do its knowledge products influence development thinking, or is the Bank merely a proselytizer? The World Bank is a prolific publisher; for example, it has published more journal articles in economics than any university except Harvard. But what about their impact on development thinking? Using citation data from Google Scholar it is hard to discern more than a negligible impact for a great many Bank publications. However, a sizeable minority of its journal articles and books have been highly cited. Compared to leading research universities and other international institutions, the Bank’s ranking in terms of widely-used citation-based indices is no lower than for its journal article counts. This suggests that the Bank’s research does much more than proselytize.

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  1. 1.

    For details of Google Scholar coverage, see Accessed October 31, 2011.

  2. 2.

    The Bank’s e-Library is to be found at Accessed October 31, 2011. We downloaded the metadata from in April 2010. As of October 31, 2011, the metadata were at

  3. 3.

    The database is available at Accessed October 31, 2011.

  4. 4.

    We collected the metadata from all databases in April 2010. SCOPUS covers over 18,000 titles covering all disciplines including 16,500 peer-reviewed journals, as well as some book chapters, including the North-Holland handbook series. Details of the database are to be found at Accessed October 31, 2011.

  5. 5.

    SSCI covers primarily journal articles and is limited to about 2,500 social science journals. Details of coverage are to be found at Accessed October 31, 2011.

  6. 6.

    Details of EconLit coverage are to be found at Accessed October 31, 2011.

  7. 7.

    For example, the most cited book published by the Bank—Angus Deaton’s Analysis of Household Surveys: A Microeconometric Approach to Development Policy—appears three times in a Google Scholar search, once with just the main title, once with the full title, and once with the main title and an altogether different subtitle (presumably from a draft version). The data for the WDR’s are similarly messy. In such cases, we have aggregated manually citations across items. In general, however, we relied on the automated search tool we developed for the paper, which went through multiple revisions until we felt it was returning sufficiently accurate data.

  8. 8.

    The h-index is also rather arbitrary, with no clear theoretical foundation. Ravallion and Wagstaff (2011) develop a more general approach, linking citations to a theoretically consistent measure of influence, and using citation curves to draw inferences about influence. We checked the results below using this more general approach; broadly speaking, the same conclusions emerge as with the h-index, so we do not report the more general results here. Ravallion and Wagstaff (2010) provide detailed results.

  9. 9.

    Not all book chapters in our database are in Bank-edited volumes. The North-Holland Handbook chapters are an example.

  10. 10.

    Authors are classified as Bank research staff in this paper if they have ever had an appointment in the current research department (known as the Development Research Group (DRG)) or were in its predecessor (the Policy Research Division (PRD)) from 1995 onwards. Long-term and extended-term consultants are included, but short-term consultants are excluded.

  11. 11.

    The volumes in question are: “An Opportunity for a Different Peru: Prosperous, Equitable, and Governable,” “Rural Development, Natural Resources and the Environment: Lessons of Experience in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” “Proceedings of a Conference on Currency Substitution and Currency Boards,” and “Global Issues for Global Citizens: An Introduction to Key Development Challenges.” None of the 24 chapters in the rural development volume has ever been cited in the documents covered by GS.

  12. 12.

    After creating the data set we realized that we had undercounted EBRD publications because some authors had listed their address as the European Bank rather than EBRD or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

  13. 13.

    The Herfindahl index is a common measure of concentration given by (in this case) the sum of the squared shares of research output across the N SSCI headings. The index ranges from 1/N (when the shares are equal) to 1 (when they are very highly concentrated such that one heading has all the output).

  14. 14.

    The subject areas used to classify articles in the SSCI appear to include not only the 48 subject areas used by the SSCI (listed at, but also those used in the Science Citation Index ( and the Arts and Humanities Citation Index ( All links accessed October 31, 2011. The World Bank’s articles, for example, fall into 120 subject categories. These are almost completely mutually exhaustive (just three out of over 9,000 records were unclassified), but not mutually exclusive (the percentages across the 120 subject classifications total 180%). In the analysis, we have focused on the top 50 subject areas for each institution; adding more areas led to results that were almost identical.

  15. 15.

    The journals are: World Bank Economic Review, World Development, Journal of Development Economics, Economic Development and Cultural Change, Journal of Development Studies, American Economic Review, Economic Journal, Review of Economics and Statistics, IDS Bulletin-Institute of Development Studies, Journal of Developing Areas, Review of Income and Wealth, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Population and Development Review, Journal of Political Economy, Development and Change and Developing Economies.

  16. 16.

    Our list of 27 specialist development journals is: World Bank Economic Review, World Development, Journal of Development Economics, Economic Development And Cultural Change, Journal of Development Studies, IDS Bulletin-Institute Of Development Studies, Journal of Developing Areas, Population and Development Review, Development and Change, Developing Economies, World Bank Research Observer, World Economy, Journal of Comparative Economics, Journal of African Economies, Economics of Transition, Public Administration and Development, Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, Environment and Development Economics, China Economic Review, Journal of Economic Growth, Development Policy Review, Journal of Asian Studies, International Monetary Fund Staff Papers, African Development Review-Revue Africaine de Developpement, Journal of International Trade & Economic Development and Studies in Comparative International Development.

  17. 17.

    Recall that ‘poverty’ did not appear in word cloud in Fig. 4, which was based on economics, finance and econometrics articles in the SCOPUS database, while the counts in Table 4 for poverty relate to all fields (and are based on SSCI data).


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Martin Ravallion.

Additional information

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Qinghua Zhao; without his programming skills this paper would have been substantially less interesting. We are also grateful to Imran Hafiz for help in retrieving data from online databases, and to Trinie Angeles for assembling the database of research staff. We are grateful for helpful comments to this journal’s editor, two anonymous referees, Angus Deaton, Asli Demirguc-Kunt, Francisco Ferreira, Deon Filmer, Bernard Hoekman, Martin Rama, Lyn Squire, Dominique van de Walle, Colin Xu, and Jane Zhang. The views expressed here are those of the authors and need not reflect those of the World Bank, its Executive Directors, or the countries they represent.

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Ravallion, M., Wagstaff, A. The World Bank’s publication record. Rev Int Organ 7, 343–368 (2012).

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  • Bibliometrics
  • World Bank
  • Citations
  • h-index
  • Journals
  • Google Scholar


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