You get what you ‘pay’ for: academic attention, career incentives and changes in publication portfolios of business and economics researchers


Since the 1990s, research on publication outputs in business and economics has almost exclusively focused on journal articles. While earlier work has shown that journal articles and other publications were indeed complements in the 70s and 80s, we find that this is no longer the case when we include the most recent decades. Apparently, the notable shift in the scientific community’s attention in the 90s on journal articles and the corresponding incentives towards publications in internationally highly ranked journals on average led researchers to focus one-sidedly on journal publications at the expense of other publication forms. To see whether the aggregate result also holds for individual researchers, we perform a cluster analysis and find four different types of individual researchers: “Journal Specialists”, “Book-Based Publishers”, a small group of “Highly Productive All-round Publishers” and a large group of what we call “Inconspicuous” researchers, with a very modest publication productivity in all forms. In addition, we find that researchers’ age matters for their publication patterns: in our sample, more experienced researchers are less productive with respect to journal articles, but more productive with respect to other publication forms. This, however, is not the result of an individual career effect. Rather, it can be attributed to a cohort effect: among today’s active researchers, the younger cohorts are more productive in journal articles than the older ones. Our explanation is as follows: the younger cohorts were still in their socialization and hiring phase and were more strongly affected by the newly introduced incentives towards international journal publications—and have thus reacted more strongly to the “regime change” resulting from the scientific community’s one-sided attention to publications in internationally highly ranked journals.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Handelsblatt points take the number of co-authors and the attributed quality (or prestige) of a journal into consideration when evaluating a journal article publication. Dependent on the journal, a publication is given a weight between 0.05 and 1 (0 if the journal is not listed in the Handelsblatt ranking). This weight is then divided by the number of co-authors. For example, a business researcher who publishes an article in the Journal of Business Economics together with a second author, receives 0.1 journal article points for the year in which the article is published. There are two different Handelsblatt journal rankings: one for business researchers and one for economists. Journal publications of business researchers are evaluated according to the Handelsblatt ranking for business administration, whereas journal publications of economists are evaluated according to the Handelsblatt ranking for economics.

  2. 2.

    Thus, unlike in the Handelsblatt ranking on individual researchers, there is no opt-out option for the database of the departmental publications.

  3. 3.

    In this paper, we use the results from the k-means method because it allows objects to change their cluster during the cluster building process, which is not possible in the case of hierarchical methods. However, we also used a Ward’s linkage hierarchical cluster analysis as a robustness check, and the results are very similar and stable.

  4. 4.

    We compared the solutions with three, four, five, six, and seven clusters. The solution with four clusters mostly achieved the highest distinctness value. There is some random component, meaning that the same solution is not always achieved. However, the four-cluster solution regularly turns out be the most distinct one and is also theoretically reasonable. Alternative solutions lead to similar results.

  5. 5.

    Note that most researchers do not reach the mean, because the mean reflects a relatively high productivity as it is influenced by some very productive researchers.

  6. 6.

    The results hold when age instead of career age is used. The positive correlation with monographs is then also significant (at a 5% level).

  7. 7.

    Our career analysis, as well as our following analyses, does not include journal editorships because of data limitations: We only know the year when a journal editorship starts but cannot reconstruct the whole time span of journal editorships. But of course, journal editorships are also an important outcome and should be investigated in future research.

  8. 8.

    Rauber and Ursprung (2008) decide for a Poisson model, as they observe a distribution that resembles count data with spikes at certain steps. Nevertheless, they report that Tobit leads to very similar results (438). As we do not observe the pattern of count data and only have to take into account the left limit (0), the Tobit model clearly appears to be appropriate. All our coefficients remain positive and significant when we use OLS regressions instead of Tobit.

  9. 9.

    Since previous research (Rauber and Ursprung (2008): 435f., 440f.; see also Goodwin and Sauer (1995): 729f., 735f.) has shown journal article points to not follow a linear pattern, but rather peak in the early career when tenure decisions usually take place, we additionally analyze the polynomial functions that fit the data best. Our analysis shows predicted yearly journal article points to sharply increase in the first career years and to not significantly change thereafter. That is, there is no significant decrease in journal article productivity at a later career age.

  10. 10.

    We calculate the publication average by dividing the publications produced in a specific year by the number of researchers that were in the sample in a given year (or more precisely, by the number of researchers who have completed their PhD before the respective year). Using the completion of the PhD as the reference point is analogous to the procedure in the previous sections, where the years since the PhD defined the total number of career years of a researcher (see also Fabel et al. (2008): 518; Rauber and Ursprung (2008): 436). The average publication outcomes are calculated separately for each publication form.

  11. 11.

    The results are qualitatively equal when we use OLS instead of Tobit.

  12. 12.

    If the cohorts are not operationalized by our metric variable “years since PhD”, but instead different groups are distinguished with dummy variables (PhD cohort 1965–1979; 1980–1989; 1990–1999; 2000–2009), where the earliest cohort (1965–1979) is the reference group (see Rauber and Ursprung 2008: 439f. for a similar approach), the results also support our interpretation that younger cohorts focus more and more on journal publications. We find that with respect to edited books, the PhD cohort 1980–1989 is more productive than the PhD cohort 1965–1979, while the two other PhD cohorts (1990–1999 and 2000–2009) are not significantly different from the PhD cohort 1965–1979. With respect to journal article points, all more recent cohorts are significantly more productive than the earliest cohort. The estimated coefficient increases with every more recent cohort, and the statistical significance for the two most recent cohorts is at the 1% level. Together with our results on general time trends, this supports the indication that younger generations of researchers focus more strongly on journal publications.

  13. 13.

    In addition to the estimations that include business and economics researchers together, we also performed our estimations separately for business researchers on the one hand and economics researchers on the other, to see whether the two disciplines differ substantially—they do not, but results are more often insignificant due to lower case numbers: The correlation analysis, for example, yields qualitatively the same results as in Table 2, except that some coefficients are not statistically significant anymore (which may be due to the smaller samples). Also, the positive career effects and the positive cohort effects for journal article points in the regression analysis hold when the discipline is included as a control variable. And the results of the cluster analysis and the career trends are also very similar.

  14. 14.

    When we include a variable for whether a researcher worked at a top 10 institution in 2010 (according to the Handelsblatt ranking of departments 2010/2011), our results remain robust. Researchers that are located at a top 10 institutions in 2010, achieve more journal article points per year compared to other researchers, on average. With respect to the other publication forms, researchers at top institutions are not found to be more productive, with respect to edited books they are even less productive on average. Career age and cohort effects with respect to journal article points are not affected by whether a researcher works at a top institution in 2010.

  15. 15.

    Backes-Gellner and Zanders (1989) provide empirical evidence that in the fields of business and economics teaching and research can be substitutes as well as complements, depending on the level and type of teaching.


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The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF-program “Wissenschaftsökonomie”, Grant number: 01PW11008). The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research had no impact on study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of the data or the writing of the manuscript. We thank Alessandra Lehmann who supported the data collection. For many valuable comments and suggestions we thank participants of the Annual Conference of the Division on Higher Education Studies (Kommission Hochschulmanagement) in the German Academic Association for Business Research (VHB), the 18th Colloquium on Personnel Economics and the Annual Meeting of the Economics of Education Session (Bildungsökonomischer Ausschuss) of the German Economic Association (VfS). We also thank two anonymous referees. Of course, any remaining mistakes are our responsibility.

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Ayaita, A., Pull, K. & Backes-Gellner, U. You get what you ‘pay’ for: academic attention, career incentives and changes in publication portfolios of business and economics researchers. J Bus Econ 89, 273–290 (2019).

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  • Research productivity
  • Publication forms
  • Journal articles

JEL Classification

  • A14
  • I23
  • J24