Using a database of 76,046 empirical economics papers published between 1985 and 2004 in the top 202 economics journals, the World Bank finds two associations:
First, per-capita research output on a given country increases with the country’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP). Regressions controlling for data availability and quality in the country, indicators of governance and the use of English yield an estimated research-GDP elasticity of 0.37; surprisingly, the United States (US) is not an outlier in the production of empirical research.
Second, papers written about the US are far more likely to be published in the top five economics journals, even after the quality of research has been partially controlled for through fixed-effects for the authors’ institutional affiliations; the estimates suggest that papers on the US are 2.6 percentage points more likely to be published in the top-five journals. This is a large effect because only 1.5 percent of all papers written about countries other than the US are published in the top-five journals. The authors speculate about the interpretations of these facts, and invite further analysis and additions to the public release of the database that accompanies this paper.
The figure below plots publications aggregated over the 20 years for all countries included in the database, separated by geographical region. In each region, countries are aligned in descending order of the number of publications.
According to the authors, “[T]here is a mass of countries with very few publications; a thin layer above this group, which includes China, Canada, Japan and; above these is the United Kingdom with 6,567 publications over the 20 years. Standing out from the group is the United States with 36,649 publications over these 20 years, accounting for the geographical focus in 48 percent of all the economic empirical research during this time.”