Of the more than 1,200 freshly minted PhDs in Economics from the US universities each year and hundreds more from the universities in other countries, only a few draw interest from the most desirable academic, government, and private sector jobs. Kevin A. Bryan from the Rotman School of Management calls these successful students “stars”. His article aims at answering several questions: What is the background of students who become stars? What type of research does the top of the market demand? What is the gender balance? Where do these students take jobs?
Bryan uses a novel dataset of job flyouts for junior economists. The data come from flyout lists collected between 2013 and 2018 at 44 top Economics departments worldwide. The star is an economist within eight years of beginning a PhD, who has never had a permanent job after completing a PhD degree and who has received a sufficiently large number of high-quality flyouts from the dataset. For the 226 student identified as top flyouts in the sample, Bryan collected data on their background, research, and eventual job placement.
The analysis shows that the star students have a highly international background. Yet, almost 85% of stars come from eleven universities and only about 9% of stars completed the PhD outside the US. There are substantially fewer female than male star students overall. The stars’ research topics capture a variety of fields but theoretical and theory-guided approaches dominate among star job market papers. Publications prior to the job market do not represent a necessary condition. While star PhDs, on average, are more likely to have a publication or R&R before going to the market (51% vs. 27%), only 20% have a publication or R&R in the top five journals. Having a postdoc is not common: only 5% of stars have gone through a postdoc prior to the market. Of the 63 star students who worked full-time for over a year before starting their PhD, the longest tenured jobs were in Economics research, Economics consultancy, management consultancy, finance, engineering, or teaching. 64.2% of all stars eventually take a job at the US Economics departments with the top 15 departments worldwide hiring 47% of stars. Interestingly, no star student in Economics has taken a permanent job in industry during first six years following the graduation, which contrasts with the situation in other fields, such as biology, computer science, or finance. Governments other than Central Banks hire no stars.
The main conclusion of the study is that the top of the Economics job market operates quite differently relative to the Economics job market at large as well as relative to the job markets in other disciplines. The top is hardly attainable for candidates outside the top universities; the distributions of gender, research field, and job market paper style differ from the full population of PhD economists; external quality signals, such as publications, do not play a major role. It remains unclear whether the existing hiring practices by top Economics departments result in efficient sorting or still feature inefficiencies and distortions. Further research is necessary to better understand the process of identifying and matching top talents and to quantify the role of the initial placements for both researchers and their employers.
Bryan, K. A. (2019). Young “Stars” In Economics: What They Do And Where They Go. Economic Inquiry, 57(3), 1392-1407.