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Have Descriptive Development Papers Been Crowded Out by Impact Evaluations?

David McKenzie's picture

During our August break, there was an interesting discussion on twitter after Scott Cunningham tweeted that “Seems like the focus on identification has crowded out descriptive studies, and sometimes forced what would be otherwise a good descriptive study into being a bad causal study. It's actually probably harder to write a good descriptive study these days. Stronger persuasion req.”

Others quickly pointed to the work by Piketty and Saez, and by Raj Chetty and co-authors that have used large administrative datasets in developed countries to document new facts. A few months earlier, Cyrus Samii set up a thread on descriptive quantitative papers in political science.

But the question got me thinking about recent examples of descriptive papers in development – and the question of what it takes for such papers to get published in general interest journals. Here are some examples published over the last ten years, including some very recently:

Gender Differences in What Development Economists Study

Seema Jayachandran's picture
Co-authored with Jamie Daubenspeck, a PhD student at Northwestern University

One of the arguments in favor of more gender diversity in the economics profession is that men and women bring distinct perspectives to research and are interested in answering different research questions. We focus in on development economics in this post and examine how the research topics studied by men and women differ. 

The top 8 active researchers in developing countries according to RePEc

David McKenzie's picture

The Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) database has over 46,000 researchers registered. Each month they send out rankings based on downloads, citations, and other metrics. Their ranking of economists based on publications in the last 10 years is topped by some of the best known names in economics (the top 5 are Acemoglu, Shleifer, Heckman, Barro and Rogoff). But looking through their top 100 (as of January 2016), I found 8 of the top 100 researchers are based in developing countries (taking World Bank client countries as “developing countries” for this purpose). Since I was only familiar with the work of one of these eight individuals, I thought it might be of interest to note some of this work going on outside of the usual top schools. I contacted the authors to ask them also what idea or work they were most proud of, or would most like to draw policy attention to.

Justification for Attending that Next Conference (or at least having that lunch meeting with people from the other building)

David McKenzie's picture
Co-authorship has become increasingly common in economics, rising from 28 percent of publications in top journals in 1973 to 55% in 1993 and 79.6% in 2011. But are people collaborating as much as they should, or do search frictions prevent productive collaborations from taking place?