People who can get cash without working usually work less. The Redistribution Recession looks at the aggregate effect on the U.S. economy when the government offers people taxpayer-funded benefits on condition that they not work. Real World Divorce looks at how aggressively Americans will pursue alimony and child support, both of which can be more lucrative when a plaintiff refrains from working. What about PhD academics who have chosen a life in the Ivory Tower because of a deep passion for knowledge? It turns out that if they can get cash without working hard they respond in the same way as a public housing occupant or child support profiteer: “Why Do We Tenure? Analysis of a Long Standing Risk-Based Explanation” (Brogaard, et al). See the Abstract:
Using a sample of all academics that pass through top 50 economics and finance departments between 1996 and 2014, we study whether the granting of tenure leads faculty to pursue riskier ideas. We use the extreme tails of ex-post citations as our measure of risk and find that both the number of publications and the portion that are “home runs” peak at tenure and fall steadily for a decade thereafter. Similar patterns holds for elite (top 10) institutions, for faculty with longer tenure cycles, and for promotion to Full Professorship. We find the opposite pattern among poorly-cited publications: their numbers steadily rise after tenure. The decline in both the quantity and quality of publications points to tenure incentivizing less effort in publishing rather than more risk-taking.
From within the paper:
it appears that academics can exert effort toward both quantity and quality, and reduce both post-tenure.
We attribute the decline in the quantity and quality of research output post-tenure to a reduction in effort incentives, but the threat of termination is by no means the only incentive that academics face. To find support for our explanation, we consider another publicly observable event around which there is likely to be a significant change in incentives: the promotion to Full Professor. Full Professorship is often associated with a substantial increase in pay, as well as rights to contribute to university decision-making. We therefore expect a similar effect of promotion to Full Professor on the number and quality of publications. We find that the number of publications per year rises until two years prior to a professor attaining the rank of Full Professor, and falls steadily over the next 12 years. The same pattern is apparent for the number of home runs per year. The percentage decrease in each variable is nearly identical to the post-tenure period, and doubly significant.