We have some new results, from Maria Victoria Anauati, Sebastian Galiani, and Ramiro H. Gálvez, all consistent with my prior intuitions:
Does the life cycle of economic papers differ across fields of economic research? By constructing and analyzing a large dataset that combines information on 9,672 articles published in the top five economic journals from 1970 to 2000 with detailed yearly citation data obtained from Google Scholar, we find that published articles do have a life cycle that differs across fields of economic research (which we divide into the categories of applied research, applied theory, econometrics methods and theory). Applied research and applied theory papers are the clear winners in terms of citation counts. For the first years after their publication, they receive higher numbers of citations per year than papers in other fields of research do. They also reach a higher peak number of citations per year and apparently sustain those peak levels for longer, in addition to being cited over longer periods of time (i.e., they have a longer lifespan). Citation patterns are much less favorable for theoretical papers, which are the object of fewer citations per annum in the first years following publication, have lower peak numbers and a shorter lifespan. Econometric method papers are a special case; the pattern for most of these papers is similar to the pattern for theory papers, but the most successful papers (as measured by the number of citations) on econometric methods are also the most successful papers in the entire discipline of economics.
The SSRN paper is here. And via Ben Southwood, here is an interesting new paper on how citation success usually pops up early in the life of a paper: “…citations in the first two years after publication explain more than half of the variation in cumulative citations received over a longer period.”