The Marginal Impact of a Publication on Citations, and Its Effect on Academic Pay

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Academic pay, Economics of science, Research impact


There are good reasons for why academicians should care about citations to scholarly articles. An important one is that members of the academy operate essentially as independent contractors, and in such cases the quality of their work must be evaluated. In the academy, such judgments are rendered about tenure, salary, and hiring for positions above the entry level. Another is that a relatively high rate of citations to a scholar’s work points toward an impressive career in academe, reflecting one’s contributions to society in that part of one’s career spent engaging in research endeavors. As such, it is essential that compensation in academe is geared toward incentivizing the production of impactful research. This study introduces a straightforward approach to calculate the marginal impact of an academic publication on total citations to a scholar’s research portfolio. This variable is then included in an earnings equation, wherein it is expected to be positively related to a scholar’s real academic pay. Using data from three separate state university systems, we find that this variable is indeed positively and significantly related to a scholar’s pay, at least in the case of research-oriented higher education institutions. More specifically, we find that an increase in this variable is associated with a 2.8 to 8.9% boost in the salaries of college and university faculty.

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