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The Undergraduate Origins of Ph.D. Economists

by John J. Siegfried and Wendy A. Stock

Abstract
We document the types of undergraduate colleges and universities attended by those who earned a doctorate in economics from an American university from 1966 through 2003 and examine relationships between type of undergraduate institution and attrition and time-to-degree in Ph.D. programs. The total number of new economics Ph.D.s awarded to U.S. citizens has declined precipitously over the past thirty years. Concurrently, the number of economics doctorates who hold undergraduate degrees from U.S. universities has fallen by half: from a high of about 800 in 1972 to about 400 in 2003. Among those who have earned undergraduate degrees from American institutions, the mix of schools attended by the doctorates has remained relatively stable, with about 55 percent of those who earn a Ph.D. in economics each year holding their bachelors degree from a university that offers a Ph.D. in economics, and a bit more than 10 percent holding a bachelors degree from a selective liberal arts college. Currently, 18 of the 25 American undergraduate institutions that send the largest percentage of their graduating classes on to earn a Ph.D. in economics are liberal arts colleges. Graduates of liberal arts colleges also have shorter time-to-degree and higher verbal GRE scores than other economics Ph.D. students.

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