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The American Economic Association is the premier organization of professional economists in the world. It was organized in 1885 at a meeting in Saratoga Springs, New York. Richard T. Ely, who was active in founding the association, was its first secretary (an administrative officer) and was later a president of the association. Francis Amasa Walker, then president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was its first president.
The association has three purposes: to encourage economic research, especially historical and statistical studies; to issue publications on economic subjects; and to encourage freedom of economic discussion. Because of a controversy about whether the association would be used for political advocacy that confounded its formation, the association is prohibited by charter from taking a position on practical economic questions. The spirit of these objectives has been maintained throughout the association’s history.
The association’s initial membership consisted mainly of college and university economics teachers. However, with growing interest in economics in the twentieth century, the association has attracted members from business and professional groups. In 2005 membership was approximately 19,000, including over 5,000 members from beyond North America. About 60 percent of members are associated with academic institutions; 20 percent with business, industry, and consulting; and 15 percent with government and not-for-profit research organizations. More than 4,000 libraries, institutions, and firms subscribed to the publications of the association in 2005.
The association employed about thirty people fulltime in 2005, most involved in producing publications and organizing an annual convention. Its headquarters is in Nashville, Tennessee, and its publications office is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Members annually receive thirteen issues of three journals: the American Economic Review, the Journal of Economic Literature, and the Journal of Economic Perspectives. The American Economic Review publishes about 100 articles a year on various economic topics chosen from among 1,200 submissions on the basis of double-blind peer review (neither author nor reviewer know the other’s identity). The Journal of Economic Literature annually publishes about 20 comprehensive interpretive essays on topics that synthesize the relevant literature, and about 150 reviews of recently published books on economics. The Journal of Economic Perspectives publishes about 50 articles a year that explain current research on topics in theoretical and empirical economics or analyze public-policy issues. Articles in the Journal of Economic Perspectives are written to be accessible to an audience of nonspecialists. Articles in the Journal of Economic Literature and the Journal of Economic Perspectives are commissioned by the editors. The association also produces a searchable Bibliography :, EconLit, of the economic literature.
The association organizes an annual three-day conference of economists each January. About 8,000 people attend. About 1,500 research papers are presented, many of which are subsequently published in scholarly journals. The association publishes a monthly listing of job openings for economists and awards its Clark Medal biannually to the economist under age forty who has made the most important contributions to economic research. It also annually names three distinguished fellows and runs a summer program to help prepare students from underrepresented groups for PhD study in economics.
- Coats, A. W. 1985. The American Economic Association and the Economics Profession. Journal of Economic Literature 23 (4): 1697–1727.
- Siegfried, John J. 1998. Who Is a Member of the AEA?Journal of Economic Perspectives 12 (2): 211–222.
- Siegfried, John J. 2002. The Economics of Regional Economics Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance 42 (1): 1–17.
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