Journal Rankings in Sociology: Using the H Index with Google Scholar


There is considerable interest in the ranking of journals, given the intense pressure to place articles in the “top” journals. In this article, a new index, h, and a new source of data—Google Scholar – are introduced, and a number of advantages of this methodology to assessing journals are noted. This approach is attractive because it provides a more robust account of the scholarly enterprise than do the standard Journal Citation Reports. Readily available software enables do-it-yourself assessments of journals, including those not otherwise covered, and enable the journal selection process to become a research endeavor that identifies particular articles of interest. While some critics are skeptical about the visibility and impact of sociological research, the evidence presented here indicates that most sociology journals produce a steady stream of papers that garner considerable attention. While the position of individual journals varies across measures, there is a high degree commonality across these measurement approaches. A clear hierarchy of journals remains no matter what assessment metric is used. Moreover, data over time indicate that the hierarchy of journals is highly stable and self-perpetuating. Yet highly visible articles do appear in journals outside the set of elite journals. In short, the h index provides a more comprehensive picture of the output and noteworthy consequences of sociology journals than do than standard impact scores, even though the overall ranking of journals does not markedly change.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    The use of citation counts in evaluations remains controversial, whether it is done directly or via journal rankings as a proxy (van Raan 1996; MacRoberts and MacRoberts 1996; Seglen 1997; Garfield 2006; see Holden et al. 2006 for a number of recent references). In an appendix to this report, I discuss a key issue in the use of individual citations at the tenure decision. The basic problem, at least in the social sciences, is that the impact of research papers cannot be fully assessed until well after the tenure decision needs to be made.

  2. 2.

    The mean exposure time in the standard impact score is one year. For example, the 2008 impact score for a journal is based on citations to papers published in 2006 and 2007. The papers published at the beginning of 2006 thus have almost two years to garner references, but those published at the end of 2007 have only a few months. Similarly, the five-year impact score discussed below has a mean exposure time of 2.5 years, and thus does not capture five full years of citation exposure.

  3. 3.

    Scopus is yet another potential data source for journal comparisons (Leydesdorff, Moya-Anegon and Guerrero-Bote, 2010). I prefer Google Scholar because of its inclusion of references in books, and because it covers materials published over a longer time frame.

  4. 4.

    Unfortunately, PoP is not well suited for estimating the proportion of papers rarely if ever cited. That is because it often includes a number of variant references or citations, which generates a “tail” of entries with zero, one or two citations.

  5. 5.

    The International Review of Sociology has been published since 1893, two years before the American Journal of Sociology.

  6. 6.

    The Du Bois Review has only been published since 2004; it has achieved an h score of 11 over a six year period.

  7. 7.

    It should be noted that the average “exposure” time for a paper to be cited was 5 years, since the papers were published throughout the 10 year period covered. The most cited papers are concentrated among those published in the earliest years of the decade because they had the most time to be read and absorbed.

  8. 8.

    Two journals—the Annals of Tourism and Cornell Hospital Quarterly -- were removed on substantive grounds.

  9. 9.

    Another way to view this association recognizes that the five-year factor score includes the two year score. It may be useful to examine the relationship between the first two years of citation with the subsequent three years of citations. This involves subtracting the impact score from the five-year impact score and correlating the former with the remainder. This association is weaker but still substantial (r = .80).

  10. 10.

    Francois Nielsen, former editor of Social Forces, notes that Social Forces ranks higher on the eigenfactor metric. This measure weights citations by ‘quality,’ ie the ranking of the citing journal. This type of adjustment would be difficult to implement with Google Scholar, since one would have to weight not just journals but citations appearing in books and other sources as well.

  11. 11.

    The g-index is the (unique) largest number such that the top g articles received (together) at least g2 citations.

    (Egghe 2006).

  12. 12.

    In terms of data errors, h is a bit less vulnerable to incorrect and variant citations. While each such error would affect g, h only depends on the accuracy of citation counts of papers close to the value of h. In other words, errors in the citation counts of very highly-cited and very rarely-cited papers will not affect the measured value of h.

  13. 13.

    It should also be noted that the statistics reported here also do not adjust for the number of articles published by each journal.

  14. 14.

    The ratio of h for the top 20 journals versus the remaining 108 published during both periods declines from 2.7 to 2.4, but this difference is too small to be statistically significant (treating this set of journals as a statistical sample).

  15. 15.

    An entry to “Reflexive Modernization” by Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Scott Lash in the journal Theory, Culture & Society garnered 783 citations. This reference, however, is to a special issue of the journal rather than a single article.

  16. 16.

    An earlier draft of this paper cited an essay by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis entitled “Schooling in Capitalist America Revisited” as the most frequently cited paper. Unfortunately, the references to this article, published in the journal Sociology of Education, appear to be conflated with references to the with the same title published by these authors a quarter of a century earlier.

  17. 17.

    Ronald Inglehart is a political scientist by training but his research on “post-materialist” values is quite prominent in sociology. Gautam Ahuja is a management professor; his highly cited paper seeks to build on the research by Ronald Burt, a noted sociologist of networks. Perhaps the paper that “sticks out” the most is the paper by Filmer and Pritchett on wealth effects in the journal Demography. This paper examines the impact of household wealth on schooling in India. While this topic is in principle of interest to sociologists, this article has been of greater interest to scholars in other fields. Based on the ISI classification of the citing journals, Filmer and Pritchett paper is most popular in public health, tropical medicine, economics and demography, with only 2 % of the citations appearing in sociology journals.


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Correspondence to Jerry A. Jacobs.



Table 6 Correlation of early citations with subsequent citations

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Jacobs, J.A. Journal Rankings in Sociology: Using the H Index with Google Scholar. Am Soc 47, 192–224 (2016).

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  • Sociology journals
  • Citations
  • Journal rankings
  • H index
  • Google scholar