Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Reputation and Earnings: The Roles of Quality and Quantity in Academe

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Reputation and Earnings: The Roles of Quality and Quantity in Academe

Article excerpt

... reputation ... traditionally has been regarded as too squishy to measure.

(Business Week, July 9, 2007)


There is a substantial literature in economics on the formation of reputation, both of individuals and of the groups to which they belong. Most of the research has been purely theoretical, with an analysis of reputation of firms (goodwill) as an asset (Tadelis 2002) and with much of the work focused on reputation arising from behavior in repeated games (Mailath and Samuelson 2006). Presumably, reputation, defined as "overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general," is something that develops over time in the minds of those who are judging the person, group, product, and so on. (1)

In this study, we provide some evidence on the determinants of reputation using the example of academic economists. The specific questions are (1) How does the quantity of publications affect the regard in which a scholar is held by other scholars? (2) Do a few extremely well-regarded publications have the same reputational effect as an equally successful (in terms of its total impact on other scholars) but lengthier publication list? and (3) Are the determinants of reputation the same as the determinants of pecuniary returns? The answers to these specific questions about the rewards to scholars might shed some light on the general determinants of professional reputation. These questions do not appear to have been addressed in economics. The sparse literature on academic reputation in other disciplines has concentrated on solicitations of senior scholars' opinions about curricula vitae rather than on proxies for reputation that are based on actions (Feist 1997 on natural scientists and Hayes 1983 on psychologists).


Presumably, reputation is related to observers' memory and how the actions and sequences of others' behavior produce those memories. As such, the literature on memory and learning in experimental psychology may be informative here. That literature unsurprisingly makes it clear that memory is enhanced by additional exposure. In terms of our question about the trade-offs among the dimensions of quality, however, the issue is whether memory of an item within a class is better enhanced by a given number of stimuli of one item in that class or of several different items in the same class.

A fundamental work in the general area of memory (Tulving and Thomson 1973) demonstrated its complexities and proposed a theory of "encoding specificity"--that the specifics underlying exposure to events and the keys that might lead to the retrieval of memory interact to determine how memories develop. This study led to a huge literature, none of which speaks directly to our question, but part of which may shed some light on it. Arnold and Lindsay (2002) imply that people will remember better if they are stimulated by exact repetition of an event rather than by variations in it. Starns and Hicks (2005) show that providing related stimuli at the same time has complementary effects on memories of each, but that this is only true if the stimuli are provided in the same experimental session. In a slightly different context, that of studying for tests, the results of Kurtz and Loewenstein (2007) show qualitatively similar results. Overall, one might infer that these experiments support the notion that memory will be more strongly enhanced by repetitions of the same stimulus than by the same number of different, but related stimuli. Viewing the class of stimuli as all references to a scholar's work, and each individual stimulus as a reference to a particular study, they suggest that scholarly reputation may be more strongly affected by a very important publication than by an equally visible series of lesser works.

We examine in particular how the market for reputation, R, is affected by three kinds of stimuli produced by agents' efforts: quantity and two types of quality. …

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