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Tools or Toys? The Impact of High Technology on Scholarly Productivity

  • Daniel S. Hamermesh
  • Sharon M. Oster

Toys. The impact of computers on productivity has been examined directly on macro data and indirectly (on wages) using microeconomic data. This study examines the direct impact on the productivity of scholarship by considering how high technology might alter patterns of coauthoring of articles in economics and their influence. Using all coauthored articles in three major economics journals from 1970-79 and 1992-96, we find: 1) Sharp growth in the percentage of distant coauthorships (those between authors who were not in the same metropolitan areas in the four years prior to publication), as the theory predicts. Contrary to the theory: 2) Lower productivity (in terms of subsequent citations) of distant than close-coauthored papers; and 3) No decline in their relative disadvantage between the 1970s and 1990s. These findings are reconciled by the argument that high-technology functions as a consumption rather than an investment good. As such, it can be welfare-increasing without increasing productivity.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6761.

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Date of creation: Oct 1998
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Hamermesh, Daniel S. and Sharon M. Oster. "Tools Or Toys? The Impact Of High Technology On Scholarly Productivity," Economic Inquiry, 2002, v40(4,Oct), 539-555.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6761
Note: LS
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  1. McDowell, John M & Smith, Janet Kiholm, 1992. "The Effect of Gender-Sorting on Propensity to Coauthor: Implications for Academic Promotion," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 30(1), pages 68-82, January.
  2. Dinardo, J.E. & Pischke, J.S., 1996. "The Returns to Computer Use Revisited: Have Pencils Changed the Wage Structure Too?," Working papers 96-12, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  3. Edward P. Lazear, 1998. "Globalization and the Market for Teammates," NBER Working Papers 6579, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Trajtenberg, Manuel, 1989. "The Welfare Analysis of Product Innovations, with an Application to Computed Tomography Scanners," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(2), pages 444-79, April.
  5. Sauer, Raymond D, 1988. "Estimates of the Returns to Quality and Coauthorship in Economic Academia," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(4), pages 855-66, August.
  6. Nathalie Greenana & Jacques Mairesse, 2000. "Computers And Productivity In France: Some Evidence," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(3), pages 275-315.
  7. Dasgupta, Partha, 1988. "Patents, Priority and Imitation or, the Economics of Races and Waiting Games," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 98(389), pages 66-80, March.
  8. Catherine J. Morrison & Ernst R. Berndt, 1991. "Assessing the Productivity of Information Technology Equipment in U.S. Manufacturing Industries," NBER Working Papers 3582, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Quandt, Richard E, 1976. "Some Quantitative Aspects of the Economics Journal Literature," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages 741-55, August.
  10. Doms, Mark & Dunne, Timothy & Troske, Kenneth R, 1997. "Workers, Wages, and Technology," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 253-90, February.
  11. Zvi Griliches, 1958. "Research Costs and Social Returns: Hybrid Corn and Related Innovations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 419.
  12. Sharon M. Oster & Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1998. "Aging And Productivity Among Economists," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(1), pages 154-156, February.
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