The life cycle of scholars and papers in economics - the 'citation death tax'

Joshua Aizenman, Kenneth Kletzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The information content of academic citations is a subject to debate. This article views premature death as a tragic 'natural experiment', outlining a methodology identifying the 'citation death tax' - the impact of the death of productive economists on the patterns of their citations. We rely on a sample of 428 papers written by 16 well-known economists who died well before retirement, during the period 1975 to 1997. The news is mixed: for half of the sample, we identify a large and significant 'citation death tax' for the average paper written by these scholars. For these authors, the estimated average missing citations per paper attributed to premature death ranges from 40% to 140% (the overall average is about 90%), and the annual costs of lost citations per paper are in the range 3-14%. Hence, a paper written 10 years before the author's death avoids a citation cost that varies between 30% and 140%. For the other half of the sample, there is no citation death tax; and for two Nobel Prize-calibre scholars in this second group, Black and Tversky, citations took off over time, reflecting the growing recognitions of their seminal works.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4135-4148
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Economics
Issue number27
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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