APSA Membership Dues and Annual Meeting Fees in Context

The other day, I wrote about how APSA annual membership fees aren’t quite as expensive as they may seem in the context of other large, primary scholarly organizations in the social sciences and history. Yes, the economists and the ISA may charge a lot less, but it seems like the AEA is a crazy outlier (as they are in conference fees) and ISA isn’t quite a primary disciplinary organization in the same way that APSA, ASA, AAA, and AHA are.

But on Facebook, someone challenged me that this might not be the entire story. In this day, hardly anyone joins a scholarly oranization if they’re not either on the job market or going to the annual convention, and membership fees are largely calibrated to be just about the difference between the member and the non-member registration rate for the annual meeting. So maybe APSA is a bad deal, but that only becomes relevant when we look at the total cost of attending the annual meeting.

I went back to the Web and found some data. I quickly discovered that the economists are maybe the worst possible reference group for social sciences and humanities disciplines. Not only does AEA have relatively low membership dues, AEA also charges very little ($115!) for annual meeting registration. This suggests to me that AEA operates under a very different business model than the other leading social science disciplinary organizations, especially since (inasmuch as a few seconds’ Googling can be held to be research) AEA doesn’t have all that many more members. I suspect the difference comes in Big Science institutional support, probably some wealthy members’ bequests, and (maybe most important) convention hall exhibition fees and a different ownership structure for AER and other association journals.

The bottom line: Don’t compare APSA to AEA. They’re not in the same field.

So let’s take a look at the other data. Here are my sources:

This is not quite the same reference group as last time. LASA is holding its meeting in Barcelona, which renders it not quite comparable here; I sub SPSA in for convention registration costs instead (although SPSA is MUCH smaller than APSA or MPSA). I also include MLA in this and subsequent charts.

Convention registration is not quite as easily comparable as annual membership fees, mostly because some conferences have not just “regular” (i.e., late/onsite) and “early” fees but also a “call for papers” fee (pay before you know you’ve been admitted!). Also, technically, the AEA doesn’t run a conference; the Allied Social Sciences Association (a broader group) does. I call it “AEA” here for convenience but it’s an important distinction. Throughout, I ignore “call for papers” fees because they are not widely applied.

So here are the charts for registration fees alone:

Regular registration fees for annual meetings.
Early registration fees for annual meeting.

APSA is not the most expensive conference…but it’s darn close. Indeed, it’s saved from being the most expensive regular registration fee only by “MPSA Out”–the infamous Midwest price differential between staying in the convention hotel(s) and not. (In fact, MPSA-In fees look like they are perfectly calibrated to be just less expensive than APSA…which raises some questions about rent extraction, but I digress.)

Putting the convention fee (using the ‘early’ fee as the reference category, because surely that’s what people actually pay, right?) lets us compare APSA annual membership plus convention fees more easily.

So, first, here’s the simple addition of membership dues and early registration fees. APSA is the big red dashed line; MPSA-Out is the purple dotted line and MPSA-In is the purple dashed line.

Chart showing membership dues plus early convention registration fee.

As before, APSA is on the more-expensive side of the range, but is not quite as far from other flagship organizations in social science (that is, ASA and AAA) as it is from ISA or MPSA, the two more comparable secondary political-science(ish) orgs (ISA folks, don’t @-me on this). Notably, APSA is less expensive than ASA and AAA throughout, and almost exactly the same amount as MPSA at the presumably most common salary levels ($45k-$90k) (see the BLS data on median pay for political science instructors).

Putting this in terms of difference-from APSA makes the relationship even clearer:

Chart showing difference between APSA membership and early registration fee by association (positive means more expensive than APSA).

ISA is the extreme outlier on this, but it is also way less expensive–basically about $200/person/year less expensive than APSA. AHA is about $100/person/year less expensive than APSA, and MESA lags not too far behind AHA. But the anthropologists and sociologists pay a bit more, and the MLA members not all that much less.

The bottom line: APSA is broadly in line with comparable organizations, although perhaps a touch higher across the board depending on if you’re comparing it to AHA-MLA or a bit lower if you think ASA-AAA is a better comparison set. AEA and ISA are just bad reference sets, even though they are the most frequently used.