NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Collapse of the Soviet Union and the Productivity of American Mathematicians

The typical American mathematician whose research most overlapped with that of the Soviets suffered a reduction in productivity after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emigration of Soviet researchers.

In The Collapse of the Soviet Union and the Productivity of American Mathematicians (NBER Working Paper No. 17800), George Borjas and Kirk Doran measure the impact of the influx of renowned Soviet mathematicians on the American (and global) mathematics community after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over 1,000 Soviet mathematicians migrated to other countries, with about 30 percent settling in the United States. These émigrés, who had long worked in relative isolation from their western counterparts, brought with them a wealth of new theorems, approaches, and ideas that earned them coveted positions in universities and ready access to professional journals. The authors find that in the United States, much of this success came at the expense of their American counterparts.

Using a database provided by the American Mathematical Society, the authors study the location, affiliation, and publication and citation records of mathematicians who were active in either the Soviet Union or the United States for the past few decades. They show that the typical American mathematician whose research most overlapped with that of the Soviets suffered a reduction in productivity after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emigration of Soviet researchers

After studying the pre-1992 age-output profile of American mathematicians, Borjas and Doran analyze the post-1992 output of U.S. mathematicians whose work paralleled that of their Soviet counterparts. These Americans might have been expected to benefit from the influx of Soviet researchers and their ideas, since they would have an expanded set of colleagues and the possibility of collaboration. Yet the American mathematicians' productivity was far below what would have been expected.

The data reveal that because of the increase in the number of mathematicians competing for the relatively fixed number of research jobs, American mathematicians became much more likely to switch institutions, and that switch sometimes entailed a move to a lower quality institution. Moreover, because of the increased competition in the international journals market, many of these American mathematicians ceased publishing relatively early in their careers and became much less likely to publish a particularly influential research paper after the arrival of the Soviet émigrés. The resulting gap in output to a large extent was filled in by the émigrés.

While they find important shifts in the composition of research output, Borjas and Doran do not find in the years after the émigrés arrived any substantial increase in the aggregate output of mathematicians based in American universities and other institutions.

--Matt Nesvisky

The Digest is not copyrighted and may be reproduced freely with appropriate attribution of source.
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us