Published on Development Impact

The State of Development Journals 2023: Quality, Acceptance Rates, Review Times, and What’s New

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This is the seventh in my annual series of efforts to put together data on development economics journals that is not otherwise publicly available or easy to access (see 2017201820192020, 2021, 2022 for the previous editions). I once again thank all the journal editors and editorial staff who graciously shared their statistics with me. I’ll start by noting that sadly two of the journals I’ve collected statistics for in previous years are now stopping publishing/are discontinued: the IZA Journal of Development and Migration, and Development Engineering. I have added one newer journal, World Development Perspectives.

Journal Quality

The most well-known metric of journal quality is its impact factor. The standard impact factor is the mean number of citations in the last year of papers published in the journal in the past 2 years, while the 5-year is the mean number of cites in the last year of papers published in the last 5. As noted in previous years, the distribution of citations are highly skewed, and while the mean number of citations differs across journals, there is substantial overlap in the distributions – most of the variation in citations is within, rather than across journals. We continue to see growth in these impact factors at many journals. I compliment these stats with RePec’s journal rankings which take into account article downloads and abstract views in addition to citations.

Table 1: 2-year impact ratings

Table 2: 5-year impact factors

Table 3: RePec rankings

Table 4 then shows two additional metrics, taken from Scimago, which uses information from the Scopus database. The first is the SJR (SCImago Journal Rank), which is a prestige-weighted citation metric – which works like Google PageRank, giving more weight to citations in sources with a relatively high SJR. I’ve included some of the top general journals in economics for comparison. Scimago also provides an H-index which is the number of papers published by a journal  in any year that were cited at least h times in the reference year – so this captures how many papers continue to be influential but as a result, favors more established journals, and ones that publish more articles, that have a larger body of articles to draw upon.

Table 4: Scopus rankings

How many submissions are received, and what are the chances of getting accepted?

Table 5 shows the number of submissions received each year. The total submissions in the 12 journals tracked again exceeds 10,000 papers!!! However, we see:

·       At most journals the number of submissions has either leveled off or fallen since a peak in 2020-21. World Development had the largest 2020 peak when they had a special call for a variety of short papers on COVID-19, but perhaps the combination of people sending off lots of papers during the pandemic and then being a little slower to start new projects has halted the rapid growth somewhat.

·       The newish World Development Perspectives already received 532 submissions last year, more than many long established development journals.

·       The Review of Development Economics has seen very rapid growth in submissions. I only started collecting stats for it last year, but the editors note that in 2015 they received about 450 submissions, and this has now grown to more than 1,500 last year.

Table 5: Submission numbers

Table 6 shows the total number of papers published in each journal. 920 papers were published in 2022, so that’s a lot of development research (even though less than 1 in 10 of the submitted papers). I’ve noted in previous years that some of the journals have been able to flexibly increase the number of articles published as their submission numbers have risen, reducing publication lags as well. Note that Economía LACEA did not publish a 2022 issue since they changed publishers from Brookings Press to LSE Press, which re-launched the journal as an Open-Access journal with a 2023 issue now out.

Table 6: Number of Papers Published

The ratio of the number of papers published to those submitted is approximately the acceptance rate. Of course papers are often published in a different year from when they are submitted, and so journals calculate acceptance rates by trying to match up the timing. Table 7 shows the acceptance rates at different journals. Of course the number and quality of submissions varies across journals, and so comparing acceptance rates across journals is not overly helpful for you in deciding what the chances of your particular paper getting accepted is at these different journals.  

Table 7: Acceptance rates

How long does it take papers to get refereed?

In addition to wanting to publish in a high quality outlet, and having a decent chance of publication, authors also care a lot about how efficient the process is. Table 8 provides data on the review process (see the previous years’ posts for historic data). The first column shows the desk rejection rate, which averages 69% on an unweighted basis, and about 73% on a weighted basis – 7,642 of the 10,533 submissions in 2022 were desk rejected. But this still leaves 2,890 papers that editors needed to find referees for.

Andy McKay at the Review of Development Economics has put together a paper that analyses submissions to that journal and explores some of the challenges developing country researchers face in getting published. He notes the following main reasons papers get desk rejected:

·       The paper’s introduction or abstract fail to define and motivate a clear research question or to make clear the submission’s contribution to the field.

·       The paper is badly written or poorly explained

·       The paper is not about development at all

·       It is very specific in terms of issue or geographic focus without consideration of wider implications

·       The paper is tightly focused on applying a technique without much consideration to economic issues

·       The paper is rejected for plagiarism


Column 2 uses the desk rejection rates and acceptance rates to estimate the acceptance rate conditional on you making it past the desk rejection stage. On average, about one in three papers that gets sent to referees gets accepted, with this varying from 18% to 65% across journals.

The remaining columns give some numbers on how long it takes to get a first-round decision.. The statistics “Unconditional on going to referees” includes all the desk rejections, which typically don’t take that many days. The average conditional on going to referees is in the 3-5 month range. The last two columns then show that at most journals, almost all papers have a decision within 6 months – so in my opinion, you should feel free to send an enquiry if your paper takes longer than that.

Table 8: Time for review

Which journals have a short paper format?

The Journal of Development Economics has a separate short paper track which follows the model of AER Insights and several other journals like ReStat and the Journal of Public Economics. The JDE published 22 of these short papers in 2022. Most of the other development journals do not have this separate category for their general submissions, although some have included it in special issues, and they all say readers and referees appreciate short, well written papers. World Development Perspectives published 8 small articles (notes) in 2022. The Journal of Development Studies said they have a short Data Notes category under consideration.

An update on the JDE’s registered reports

I also asked the JDE for an update on registered reports (RRs). They noted the number of registered reports being submitted has recovered after a fall during the pandemic, and they received 29 submissions in 2022, with 3 stage 1 and 2 stage 2 acceptances in 2022 (others could be in R&R status or still under consideration). They have now set up a website which tracks all stage 1 and stage 2 registered reports. Across all years to date there are 22 stage 1 and 8 stage 2 accepted.

Other Development Journal News

Finally, I asked the journals if they had any other major news or changes to report. Several had strengthened or diversified their editorial boards, which you can see by looking at the different journal websites. Here are some other bits and pieces of interest:

·       The Journal of Development Effectiveness is encouraging more special issues than in the past. The new editorial board is discussing journal policy on research ethics and authorship and expects these new policies to be released later this year.

·       EDCC introduced a fee waiver in 2022 for all EDCC referees who submitted a report on time in the year preceding the submission (otherwise EDCC charges a $50 submission fee).

·       World Development Perspectives notes they will be getting their first Impact Factor this year.

·       Both World Development and the Review of Development Economics note they are trying to do more on monitoring and supporting researchers based in developing countries. World Development said they plan to be doing seminars and workshops as part of this.

Final notes:

Each year I have done this I get comments along the lines of “who cares?, this is very navel-gazing”, “why is this economics blog only focused on mostly development economics journals when I think of development as something else?”, “why isn’t journal X included?”, and “why don’t you do this for field Y as well?” – as well as lots of people thanking me and saying this is useful. Each year I debate whether it is worth the time and effort to put all of this together. So yes, it is a set of development economics journals, it is information that seems to be useful to some people, and I definitely encourage anyone who wants to do something similar for other fields to copy this effort and share their findings.

Finally, thanks again to all the editors for all the time and effort they devote to improving the quality and visibility of development research. As you can see, they have a lot to deal with!


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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