American economic association (AEA) – definition and meaning

The American Economic Association (AEA), which is based in Nashville, Tennessee, is a learned society in the field of economics – a professional organization of economists working mainly in US universities.

The AEA has been publishing the American Economic Review since 1911, one of the most prestigious journals in the field.

The AEA was founded in Saratoga, New York in 1885 by a group of young economist who had been trained in the German historical school. The Association has been under the control of academics since 1900. On February 3rd, 1923, it was incorporated in Washington DC.


First President American Economic AssociationFrancis Amasa Walker (1840-1897), an American economist, statistician, journalist, educator, academic administrator, and military officer in the Union Army, was the American Economic Association’s first President (1886-1892). (Image: Wikimedia Commons)


Freedom of speech and impartiality

The Association has three main aims:

1. To encourage economic research, especially the statistical and historical study of the actual conditions of industrial life.

2. To publish articles on economic subjects.

3. To encourage absolute freedom of speech in economic discussions.

On its website, the AEA says the spirit of these objectives “has been maintained throughout the history of the Association.”

The AEA, whose current president is William D. Nordhaus, Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, will take no partisan attitude, nor will it commit its members to any position regarding practical economic questions.



A broadening membership

The Association used to consist mainly of university and college economics teachers. Today it attracts a growing number of members from outside academia, including those from professional and business groups.

Just over half of its current membership of 18,000 consists of academics, while 15% are employed in industry and business. There are also members who work in the federal and local governments, and not-for-profit organizations.

American Economic Association activities

For several years, the Association published just three journals:

1. The American Economic Review.

2. The Journal of Economic Literature.

3. The Journal of Economic Perspectives (available on the Internet for free).

In 2009, it started publishing four new area-specific journals, collectively known as the American Economic Journal (AEJ). They cover the following areas: macroeconomic, microeconomics, economic policy and applied economics. Out of each of the four areas, the Association recognizes a Best Paper Award each year for articles published.

The AEA also publishes EconLit, an electronic bibliography that indexes more than 120 years of economics literature from all parts of the globe. According to the Association “Compiled and abstracted in an easily searchable format, EconLit is a comprehensive index of journal articles, books, book reviews, collective volume articles, working papers and dissertations.”

Janet Louise Yellen, the current Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, became a Distinguished Fellow of the AEA in 2012.

Video – American Economic Association Humor Session

Watch and listen to the ‘world’s first and only stand-up economist’ tell jokes at the 2010 AEA humor session.