The citation trap: Papers published at year-end receive systematically fewer citations

Chao MA, Yiwei LI, Feng GUO, Kao SI

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The present research reveals that academic papers published at year-end on average receive systematically fewer citations than papers published at other times in the year. Using more than 200,000 papers in economics published between 1956 and 2010, the results of our analysis show that papers published between October and December on average get as much as 18.5% fewer citations than those published in the other months in the year. We refer to this phenomenon as the citation trap as there is no evidence that papers published at different times in the year differ in their academic quality. We propose that the current effect could arise because of the time window options in most online academic search engines: the specific setting of those options leads papers published at year-end to appear in the engines’ search results for a systematically shorter period of time as compared to papers published at other months in the year. Our analysis reveals evidence that is consistent with the proposed mechanism and that rules out several alternative explanations. Implications of the current research for academia and possible solutions to mitigate the citation trap are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-687
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Early online date17 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under grant no. 71603046.

This paper has benefited from discussions with Peter Aronow and Winston Lin in the course Research Design and Causal Inference at Yale University. We also would like to thank Xi Chen, Jiacheng Liu and other participants in seminar at Yale University for helpful comments. James Tierney and Rachel Koh provided excellent assistance.


  • Citation
  • Publication timing
  • Search engine
  • Year-end


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