The ASA: Where Do Your Dues Go? (Part II: Comparative Data)
February 28, 2011 § 5 Comments
In an earlier post, The Disgruntled Sociologist explored the changes in the ASA’s finances between 2003 and 2008. In this post, we consider the ASA as compared to other professional associations in the social sciences.
We compare the ASA (~14,000 members) to four other professional associations: the American Political Science Association (~15,000); the American Economic Association (~17,000); the American Anthropological Association (~10,000); and the American Historical Association (~15,000). The Disgruntled Sociologist wanted to include comparisons to the Academy of Management, but their tax returns lacked many of the details included below. Similarly, the American Psychological Association is a rather different organization, as a large share of its members are clinical psychologists.
The data are simple:
One caveat is in order when interpreting the AEA data: the AEA appears to include the editorial staff for its journals under the number of employees. The AEA also pays the editors of its journals, which accounts for some share of the compensation listed.
Total expenses for the organizations are ASA ($7.6M), APSA ($6.2M), AEA ($7.1M), AAA ($4.7M), and AHA ($3.5M).
Finally, as noted in an earlier post, it seems likely that the number of employees for the ASA should really be 29, which is the number of employees in 2007.
Several things strike The Disgruntled Sociologist as noteworthy:
- Total compensation of headquarters staff for the ASA is substantially higher than for the other organizations (with the exception of the AEA, which lists more than twice the number of employees). Including salaries, taxes, and benefits, the ASA spent close to $3M on its headquarters staff. The APSA spent close to $2.5M, the AAA $2M, and the AHA $1.5M. Yet the ASA is the second-smallest of the associations in membership.
- The ASA stands out in the category “Office expenses,” spending close to $1.2M. That is $500,000 more than any of the other organizations.
- The ASA also stands out in the category “Occupancy,” here again outstripping its nearest competitor by half a million dollars.
- Finally, the ASA has substantially higher interest expenses than the other organizations. This is presumably due to the bonds issued for the purchase of the ASA’s swanky “headquarters condominium.”
Higher costs would be fine if they were associated with greater benefits for ASA members. But it is hard for The Disgruntled Sociologist to believe that the ASA’s members are so much better off than the members of the other professional associations. In fact, in terms of tangible benefits, it appears that the other associations are more attractive. For example, membership in all of the other associations includes access or subscriptions to the association journals. To name two examples, for the APSA, that’s 3 journals, and for the AEA, 6 journals. ASA members must subscribe to journals separately.
Perhaps, then, it is the intangible benefits of ASA membership that make it all worthwhile? Color The Disgruntled Sociologist skeptical.
Which, of course, highlights the fundamental question: How does the ASA membership feel about this? Do they even know? If they knew, would they approve?
Or is this the Iron Law of Oligarchy in action?
[All Form 990s are available here.]