For many decades the Allied Social Science Association (ASSA) meetings, anchored by the American Economic Association, have been by far the world’s largest gathering of economists each year, typically attracting well over ten thousand. But the meetings went virtual-only for the past two years, and when they finally return in-person in 2023 they will likely be substantially diminished.
Some of this is due to potentially one-off factors; some people don’t want to travel to Louisiana because of its state laws, some still want to avoid large conferences because of Covid, others want to avoid the ASSA’s response to Covid:
All registrants will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and to have received at least one booster to attend the meeting…. High-quality masks (i.e., KN-95 or better) will be required in all indoor conference spaces.
But the AEA made one big, apparently permanent change that means it could be a long time before we see a meeting as big as January 2020’s in San Diego- they gave up the job market. Prior to Covid the vast majority of first-round interviews to be a full-time US economics professor took place at ASSA. Naturally interviews moved online during Covid, but surprisingly the AEA has asked that they stay online, and in fact has specifically asked schools NOT to schedule interviews during ASSAs. This removes a huge source of demand for the meetings- the ~1200 new PhDs looking for their first jobs, the thousands of people there to recruit them (each hiring school typically sends 2-4 interviewers), and everyone trying to switch jobs. This was THE big thing that made AEAs special, that other conferences didn’t really have.
I’ll let everyone else debate whether this makes the job market better or worse; I’m agnostic there, but I’m sure it will shrink the conference. One silver lining to a smaller conference is that it is much easier to find a hotel room. Like usual I was waiting on the AEA website this Tuesday to book a hotel room on the first minute the AEA’s deeply discounted hotel blocks opened, because the good hotels tend to fill up near-instantly. But it appears this was unnecessary this year- two days later and even the headquarters hotel is still wide open:
I got the room I wanted at the Hotel Monteleone; I’ll be looking to grab a spot on the Carousel Bar, maybe see some of you there. I’ll present a poster at AEA, but mostly I’m just looking forward to spending real time in New Orleans for the first time since I moved away in 2017.
So I’m still looking forward even to a diminished AEA, but it does make me wonder- which other conferences will benefit most from AEA’s decline? I don’t know that anyone has put together the numbers for all the conferences enough to know what the 2nd-largest is, but my bet both for the 2nd-largest and most likely to benefit is the Southern Economic Association; I’ll be there too, in Ft. Lauderdale this November.
This could be a permanent change. I’m glad I got chances to go and see it when it was huge because there was something special about that.