Now Reading
Economists are exposed to the environmental impact of the international job marketplace
[vc_row thb_full_width=”true” thb_row_padding=”true” thb_column_padding=”true” css=”.vc_custom_1608290870297{background-color: #ffffff !important;}”][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][thb_postcarousel style=”style3″ navigation=”true” infinite=”” source=”size:6|post_type:post”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Economists are exposed to the environmental impact of the international job marketplace

The environmental burden of the international job market for economists

Anna, a graduate of the University of Stockholm’s Economics program, was looking into jobs in Norway two years ago. She applied to a position in Oslo. Where was her first job interview? She was not in Oslo, nor online, and she wasn’t even in Stockholm. The answer is Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Anna was interviewed for a job at University of Bergen. Strangely, Anna met the recruitment committee in San Diego, California. Although Anna is fictional, her story is not untrue and will be familiar to many PhDs who had similar experiences before the pandemic.

Two years ago, junior academics were drawn to San Diego and Rotterdam because of the international job market for economists. The professional job market follows a standardised procedure. Candidates apply for positions in the fall, are pre-screened in the winter by potential employers, and are then invited to a seminar and decisive interviews in what is called fly-out. Most job applications are submitted online via an non-profit platform. Fly-outs can be held in person at the recruiting institution. But what about the prescreening interviews. Interviews are usually short (25-30 min) and take place at the Annual Congress of the European Economic Association or at the Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association. The EEA Congress was held in Rotterdam, while the AEA Meeting took place in San Diego.

These interviews create global hypermobility that is contrary to economists’ ongoing research efforts to combat climate change (Weder di Mauro 2021). Participants from the job market traveled over 17 million kilometers to attend the meetings in Rotterdam, San Diego. This is equivalent to more that 430 times the earth’s circumference. In a recent study (Chanel et al. 2021), we estimate the environmental impact of this pre-screening and offer alternative solutions. Our paper is part of a research strand that estimates the environmental impact from academic conferences (Spinellis & Louridas 2013, Burtscher, et al. 2020, Klwer et al. 2020, Klwer and al. The paradigmatic example of how market structures can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions is changing the design of this market.

San Diego and Rotterdam were last cities to host job-market meetings in person. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a sudden disruption in the recruitment system. Since then, the international job market for economists is entirely online. The official agenda of the next academic year will be announced by the job market organizers in the coming months. If the health crisis is allowed, will the prescreening phase restore its pre-pandemic standards. We hope not. We present three possible solutions, along with the potential savings in terms emissions and other costs. Our goal is for economists to rethink the recruitment system for their professions.

An anonymised dataset was used to estimate the results. This data was generously provided by The dataset includes information about more than 1,000 candidates who attended at most one interview in San Diego, Rotterdam, or both. We know the IP address of the candidates and the institutional affiliations of recruiters. We also know their destination (the venue). We are assuming that the members of the recruiting committees are two-person teams and that they prefer to travel by train or plane for shorter journeys than six hours. Figure 1 shows the carbon footprints of different scenarios. Figure 1 shows the carbon footprints of the different scenarios. These estimates only cover the prescreening phase. The environmental impact of the entire recruitment process (including that of the fly-out phase), is invariably greater.

Scenario 0: Business as usual

The 2019-2020 meetings in San Diego, Rotterdam and Rotterdam produced approximately 4,000 tonnes CO2-eq. Each participant contributed approximately 3.2 tonnes CO2-eq. Participants could offset these emissions by going car-free for one year or going vegan for four years to reduce their carbon footprint (Ivanova and al. 2020). San Diego is an extremely remote location, so choosing a more accessible venue would bring about significant gains. The overall emissions of the AEA meeting would have been reduced by approximately one-fourth if it was held in New York City or Chicago. Climate-related costs, i.e. We also considered climate-related costs (i.e. CO2-eq emissions), and also calculated other environmental costs (local air pollution and noise, congestion, habitat, and other economic costs) related to the meetings (private expenses and time lost). After taking into account all of these externalities, the total assessment of the 2019-20 meetings comes to 3.65 millions.

Figure 1

Scenario 1: All recruiters conduct interview at both annual meetings, while candidates only attend the nearest meeting.

This solution would reduce emissions by one third. Currently, recruiters only attend the nearest meeting while candidates travel across the Atlantic to attend interviews. It would be more efficient for the interview candidates to be present at every meeting, as they are more numerous than recruiters. Importantly, recruiters shouldn’t invite European-based candidates to interview in the US. It would be absurd for a European resident to interview in the US for a job with the EU, as was the case with Anna in our original example.

Scenario 2 – Recruiters and candidates attend only in-person the nearest annual meeting

This solution would reduce emissions by half. Intercontinental air transport is the largest entry in the CO2-eq bill. Its elimination could bring about a significant environmental benefit without major changes to the job market organisation. This solution, which puts candidates from different continents on an equal footing, may seem unfair. This inequality is already present in the current system. A candidate interviewed on a different continent pays more in time, stress, jetlag and money than a next-door applicant. Scenario 2 uses an explicit rule to coordinate job market actors, a practice that is very common in many professions: candidates who live far from each other are interviewed online while those who live closer are interviewed in person.

Scenario 3: Candidates and recruiters meet online

This solution would virtually eliminate the environmental costs associated pre-screening interviews. It would not hinder face-to–face interactions between shortlisted candidates, recruiters, and those who meet in person during the flyout phase. Scenario 3 could make job market more fair. Online meetings could eliminate financial barriers that keep candidates from attending job market meetings without sponsors. Online interviews could also be recorded, archived and viewed asynchronously. This would facilitate the introduction of hiring practices that reduce biases or noise (Kahneman and al. 2021: Chapter 24.


Online job market is a great opportunity to reconsider the unsustainable economics recruitment system. Our profession has a responsibility to do more to combat climate change (Oswald, Stern 2019, Pestel, and Oswald 2021). It is a good idea to start by looking at the plank in your own eye.

Refer to

Weder di Mauro, B (2021), Combatting climate change: A CEPR collection,, 8 November.

Chanel, O, A Prati, and M Raux (2021), The environment cost of the international labor market for economists, CEP Discussion paper No. 1819.

Spinellis, D. and P Louridas (2013). The carbon footprint of conference papers. PloS One 8(6): e66508.

Burtscher, L. D Barret. A P Borkar. V Grinberg. K Jahnke. S Kendrew. G Maffey. M J McCaughrean (2020). The carbon footprint of large-scale astronomy meetings. NatureAstronomy 4(9): 823-825.

Klwer, M. D Hopkins, M Allen, J Higham (2020), A review of ways to decarbonize conference travel following COVID-19 Nature 583: 356-359.

Ivanova (2020), Quantifying the potential climate change mitigation of consumption options Environmental Research Letters 15(9): 093001.

Kahneman, D. O Sibony, and C R Sunstein (2021). Noise: An error in human judgment HarperCollins.

Oswald, A. J. and N Stern (2019), Why is the world falling behind on climate change? 17 September.

Pestel, N. and A Oswald (2021), Why do so few economists work on climate change? A Survey, IZA Discussion Paper No. 14885.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.