APSA Membership Fees in Context

Some political scientists–okay, a lot of people–wonder why membership fees for the American Political Science Association’s fees are so high. In particular, folks compare APSA fees, which can be steep (a maximum of $325 per year for high-income political scientists), to fees for the American Economic Association, which max out at…$40 annually.

To test if APSA was notably more expensive than other comparable organizations, I grabbed membership fee data from:

Since all of these fairly comparable associations use a broadly income-based membership fee structure, I then calculated how much a member would pay for a regular membership at $15,000 increments from $30,000 to $150,000 inclusive. I specified the breakpoints before looking at any of the membership fee schedules; depending on the association, this means that there would be some differences if I had said $29,999 or $30,001 because of differences in setting cutpoints. Nevertheless, on average, this is a pretty fair methodology.

I found that APSA fees were slightly more expensive than average but not tremendously so. First, I plot the membership fees by income category:

Membership fees for APSA and several other social-science/area studies professional organizations (regular membership shown). APSA is the thick red dashed line.

As is obvious, APSA fees increase in a broadly similar fashion to other groups. The chart also immediately shows how absurdly low AEA fees are compared to other social science professional organization. This may come from many sources (I tend to think that higher conference revenues and journal fees explain it, since AEA does not have too many more members than other organizations shown here, based on Googling), but another is that AEA is a classic low-tax, low-service organization, whereas the other associations seem to support much larger staffs (and presumably higher levels of member service).

The next figure dramatizes the difference between APSA and other organizations:


Other organizations’ membership fees compared to APSA (that is, [Other Organization Fee – APSA Fee]).
Note that APSA is at $0 in this chart. Although APSA is consistently more expensive than ISA (another low-tax, low-service organization) or MPSA (same), APSA is significantly less expensive than the most-comparable ASA and AAA fees. Oddly, APSA and the Middle East Studies Association are almost exactly as costly to their members at each level of membership included here. Indeed, as a broad generalization, APSA costs about $50 more per year than the average of the other organizations mentioned here–and only about $30 more per year than the average if the anomalously low AEA is excluded.

I write this not to comment on the value for money of APSA but on the simple claim that APSA is much more expensive than other social-science professional organizations. Perhaps the deeper question is why are social-science organizations so expensive, and what drives variations in member services and in value-for-money across organizations.