How happy are academic economists?

Lars P. Feld, Sarah Necker, and Bruno S. Frey have done some new research on this question, I would say this is good news for us, and bad news for many of you, though apparently you are clawing back some of what you gave to us:

We study the importance of economists’ professional situation toward their life satisfaction based on a unique survey of mostly academic economists. On average, economists report to be highly happy with life. Satisfaction is positively related to spending more time on doing research. The lack of a tenured position decreases satisfaction. However, the extent to which the uncertainty created by the tenure system affects satisfaction varies with the contract terms. The effect is stronger if the contract expires in the near future or cannot be extended. Publication success has no effect if it is controlled for academic rank and the contract duration. The finding suggests that publications are rather a means to an end, e.g., to acquire a tenured position. While the perceived level of external pressure also has no impact, the perceived change of pressure in recent years is positively related to economists’ life satisfaction. An explanation is that economists have accepted a high level of pressure when entering academia but are not willing to cope with the recent increase.

The SSRN link is here, via


I'll wait until Bruno re-publishes it in another journal.

Cowen has tenure, so he's happy. Peter Boettke is happy too, so happy that he has a job at GMU and doesn't have to worry about losing his job if, as he prefers, the Fed and government simply let the chips fall where they may in the next financial crisis. Look out below! No worry, Cowen and Boettke aren't there. Satire ain't what it used to be.

Whoda thought that lifetime job protection would cause happiness, and that job insecurity would make you unhappy.

Someone should write a paper about this to get tenure.

"The lack of a tenured position decreases satisfaction" - you wouldn't know that without a study by a team of academic economists.

If these are untenured academic economists, it's a subject they think about a lot.

Why do academics like tenure so much? And, no, "Well, duh, who wouldn't want a guaranteed job?" is not an acceptable answer on an econ blog. Salary, of course, is not exogenous, so academics pay for tenure in the form of lower salaries. Consider, for example, Wall Street economists that could very well earn in a few good years more than the lifetime earnings of their academic counterparts, or at least enough to make up for all but the longest bouts (i.e., many, many years) of unemployment. In effect, they can fund their own "tenure". So, the real question is why do academics favor self-imposing the requirement that they all purchase mandatory tenure insurance?

Tenure does not just result in job security, it also much reduces freedom of movement. The proper comparison is between a tenure system with job security, lower salaries and greatly restricted movement and a non-tenure system without job security and professors not locked in place for life at reduced salaries. I would add that tenure may make its holders less productive. Recall how Vasari explained the artistic success of renaissance Florence.

Why do humans like being at the top of a status hierarchy so much?

happy-status of economists is an amusing discussion topic, but as usual this type of survey is pure speculation, measuring nothing.

The pitiful sampling procedure overwhelmingly comprises German/French academic economists, in a loose self-reported online process, with almost a 90% non-response rate from the supposed random sample. yawn

What, you actually read the paper? That's boring and requires thought. The right move is to just use the excerpt to segue into how your ideology is right and everyone else's is wrong. I think you're new here so we'll let it slide this time.

Public policy should be so ordered that Bryan Caplan and Alex Tabbarok are less satisfied with life.

Insecure people may conform to all sorts of rites and rituals in pursuit of security. And the safety blanket of resting on an antiquated degree may also be more comfortable than keeping up with current research and data. But risk carries its own rewards, some financial.

I think the really interesting question is what makes Russian economists happiest?

I am shocked! Shocked that these people are made happy by having good job security and working on whatever they want.

This begs a few questions: do economists get research funding? Normally,publications are required for sustained funding-ie one must write progress reports,with lists of papers,books,etc. do they get salary raises and promotions after tenure?

3.what are they doing if they dont publish? Face it-publications ARE the metric of research success.Do economists retire in place?-or all become bloggers :) ?.

The survey the impression that economists lose real motivation to do research after tenure.Its a great argument to abolish tenure in econ departments.

It's a good job.

A topic you might want to discuss are the pros and cons of being a professor of economics at an undergraduate college versus being a professor of finance or some econ-related field at an MBA school.

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