In last month’s Footnotes, I provided the membership with data on the finances of our Association. As Secretary, part of my responsibility is to keep members informed about the Association’s business matters, especially when they directly impact members. As I reported in January Footnotes, “Member Revenues” are the second largest source of the Association’s annual revenues and constitute a third of the total. (Member revenues are mostly membership and section dues but also include what members pay for additional print journals.)
Dues and the Dues Structure1
For many decades, the ASA dues structure has been based on members’ self-reported income. As a guiding principle, progressivity tries to have everyone experience approximately the same financial burden of paying for “public goods”—the support of the discipline that the Association provides on behalf of all sociologists—as well as for important core “professional services” the Association provides to individuals who become members. Progressivity also enables members of the Association to collectively subsidize some categories of membership, such as students and the unemployed, in order to fully include them in our national disciplinary society despite limited means.
ASA members have supported this principle with their votes. The elected Council cannot change the dues structure or dues amounts members pay (except for inflation adjustments) “without the consent of the governed,” that is, our vote. The dues structure (income bands) was changed by member vote in 2011 for implementation in 2013. Prior to that, the income bands had not been changed for 16 years, not since 1997. 2 The number of income bands was increased in 2013 from six to nine because inflation had changed the structure of sociologists’ incomes since the mid-1990s and the number of ASA members reporting they were in the top dues category ($70,000+) was becoming a majority of the membership. ASA members earning $70,000 a year were paying the same dues as those making over $150,000. Members also voted in a new “Unemployed” category in 2011 (effective 2012) and the “Emeritus” category was expanded to allow any retired sociologist to join the Association at a reduced rate rather than just those who had been long-term members.
Actual dues amounts changed modestly as a result of the 2011 membership vote. For those reporting incomes from under $20,000 a year to $39,999, the dues amounts increased $10 or less beginning in 2013; for incomes reported at $40,000- 69,999, the increase was $13 to $16; for $70,000-$84,999 incomes, the increase was $26; from $85,000-$99,999, it was $46. Members who reported incomes more than $100,000, received higher increases: $66 more if you earned under $125,000, $91 if you earned between $125,000 and $150,000, and $116 for those earning above $150,000
Where are we now?
There are three very reasonable questions I hear from members as do others on Council:
- How much have ASA member dues increased over the last decade?
- How do ASA dues compare with those of similar social science associations?
- How do ASA member dues compare with what we get for them?
How much have member dues increased?
The best timeframe for addressing this is 2015 compared to 2002.3 The data are in Table 1. Column (7) shows that members reporting annual incomes of less than $70,000 experienced dues increases over the last 13 years in real (or constant) dollars from $6 to $8 dollars. Students paid $4 more.
Factoring in the 31.7 percent inflation rate across this period, ASA members who earned from $70,000 to $85,000 in 2015 paid $14 more in real dollars than they had paid 13 years earlier; and so on, progressively, until members earning at the top end of the ASA income categories ($150,000 or more) paid $104 more in dues in 2015 than in 2002.
How do ASA dues compare with similar social science associations?
To answer this question takes a little more interpretation because we need to decide what the comparative framework is. Over many years, the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), and the American Sociological Association (ASA) have engaged in a variety of self-comparisons and provided these to their members. Why these associations? This comparison has been customary because all are core national disciplinary societiesin the social sciences and are quite similar in the size of memberships and annual budgets, as well as the range of services we provide to our members and those we engage in on behalf of our respective disciplines.
Table 2 provides this comparison. The table also includes the American Economic Association (AEA) and the Academy of Management (AOM), which are national scholarly societies often mentioned by ASA members in comparison to ASA. We will discuss these two comparisons below because they are not as similar to ASA, AAA, or APSA as one might initially think.
Sociology, Anthropology and Political Science.
The ASA, AAA, and APSA all have income-based dues structures for regular members and they have roughly similar dues ranges. ASA dues range from $50 to $360; AAA’s from $60 to $326; and APSA’s from $45 to $320. These associations have similar lower-income dues amounts, but they have somewhat larger dues differences in the top income categories. ASA’s are slightly more progressive by having both more dues bands and higher dues amounts at the top of the range (incomes of $150,000 or more).
Lower income members. ASA and APSA have similar subsidized dues categories for Student and Unemployed members, which enable them to be full members of their national disciplinary societies for modest amounts ($50 and $52 for students and $50 and $45 for unemployed, respectively). AAA does not distinguish graduate students or the unemployed from other members; people in both these groups select an income category and pay the same dues amounts as anyone else.4 This means that AAA’s graduate students and the unemployed pay higher dues than comparable members in ASA and APSA, although APSA has a two-year limit for the Unemployed and ASA does not.
For regular members earning less than $40,000, APSA has a flat dues amount of $98 and ASA has a range of $80 to $125. AAA has a range of $60 to $138 for incomes under $25,000. If you earn less than $30,000 you pay $80 to join the ASA; $98 to join the APSA; and from $60 to $174 to join AAA.
Higher income members. For members reporting incomes of $100,000 or more, these associations have three income bands to determine the dues amount. The categories are the same for ASA and AAA; in each band ASA has a higher dues amount than AAA (differences from $34 to $45). All three APSA dues amounts are lower than either ASA or AAA. The dues for members earning $100,000 or more are from $310 to $360 (a $50 range) for ASA; from $265-$326 (a $61 range) for AAA; and $241-$320 (a $79 dollar range) for APSA. The top dues for the three organizations are $360, $326, and $320 (a $40 range).
When comparing the bottom and the top of the dues structure for these three national social science organizations, the progressivity principle is evident: lower income members pay less and higher income members pay more, reflecting a policy of temporarily subsidizing dues for members of limited means. This is more evident for ASA and APSA, but all three organizations do this to some extent.
Middle range income members. This roughly covers a range of $40,000 a year for ASA and APSA and $25,000 for AAA to $100,000 for all three organizations (Table 2). If you earn $40,000, your dues are $185 for ASA membership, $174 for AAA (difference of $9) and $145 for APSA (a difference of $40). If you earn $54,999 you still pay $185 for ASA and you pay $204 for AAA and $170 for APSA (a $34 range). If you earn $80,000, you pay dues of $267 for ASA, $235 for AAA, and $207 for APSA (a $60 dollar range).
Economics and Academy of Management.
The American Economic Association (AEA) has very different revenue structure from ASA, ASA, and APSA (as well as from the AOM) and this impacts AEA’s dues structure and amounts. AEA’s dues are low and the structure simple. It has three income categories (less than $70,000, $70,000 to $105,000, and over $105,000) and three dues amounts that are within a $20 range ($20, $30, $40 respectively).
How is this possible? It is the result of AEA’s major revenue source. AEA publishes EconLit which is an electronic index that includes 120 years of economic literature and to which most academic, government, and other research libraries and institutions subscribe.(www.aeaweb.org/econlit/index.php). According to an AEA Secretary-Treasurer, the revenue produced from EconLit is sufficient to subsidize most (probably all) of AEA’s expenses; therefore, AEA’s policy is to set dues and member journal subscriptions at a minimum.
From the services side, AEA focuses largely on its role as a publisher. Beyond its chief paid staff member (the Secretary-Treasurer), who is part time and always an economics faculty member at Vanderbilt University, most of AEA’s other paid staff focus on publications: AEA’s paid editors and staff of its eight journals and EconLit; a publications manager, administrative officer, and conference manager. The membership of AEA’s governing “Executive Committee” reflects this primary publications mission. The Executive Committee is composed of 11 appointed members (Secretary-Treasurer, publications director, eight journal editors, and the managing director of EconLit) and 10 elected members (President, President-elect, 2 Vice Presidents, 6 members at large). (See www.aeaweb.org/AboutAEA/board.php.)
While it stretches the term to call AEA’s dues structure “progressive,” the Academy of Management (AOM) explicitly eschews progressivity. It has a single dues rate or “flat tax” of $182 for all full members. For students and emeriti (who are not full voting members), AOM has a second flat dues rate of $91. It has a strong international mission (just under half its membership is from outside North America as are more than half its journal submissions) and its services side reflects this. The AOM Annual Report mentions the activities of its 25 divisions and interest groups, two of its four journals, its 5-day annual meeting, and electronic communications among its 20,000 members.
In short, there is not much organizational comparability between ASA, AAA, and APSA on the one hand and AEA and AOM on the other that would encourage dues comparisons.
How do ASA member dues compare to what we get for them?
This is undoubtedly the crux of dues issues in any membership organization. Why are we paying for our membership? And what are we getting? Scholars, researchers, and students do not join every professional organization for the same reason. Some sociological associations (often smaller ones than ASA with lower dues) focus on a subsection of the discipline such as those in a geographic region or scholarly specialty (such as regional sociological associations, Population Association of America, American Society of Criminology). Some have particular disciplinary perspectives (such as Sociologists for Women in Society, Association for Humanist Sociology, Association of Black Sociologists). They differ from the ASA in that ASA is a national disciplinary society recognized by bodies such as the International Sociological Association (ISA) as the national association for sociology in the United States. That position conveys a somewhat different mission for ASA, one that overlaps with and is sometimes different from those of other sociological associations. While all national disciplinary associations focus on scholarly publications, annual meetings, and member communications, most also engage in a wider range of services for their members, support all members of their disciplines (whether or not they are association members), and engage in disciplinary advocacy of many types. These are activities that are not necessarily done by other types of scholarly associations.
ASA is both a scholarly society and a professional association. There are undoubtedly some ASA members (and non-members) who would prefer ASA to be a traditional scholarly society and focus narrowly on its publications, annual meetings, and sections (probably adding in today’s world the Job Bank and core governance functions such as disciplinary awards). But ASA members and their elected leaders have not taken that perspective across most of the Association’s history, especially since the 1950s. The broader direction for guiding ASA’s activities and services is reflected in ASA’s Mission Statement, which includes
- Serving sociologists in their work,
- Advancing sociology as a science and profession, and
- Promoting the contributions and use of sociology to society.
This broad and long-term view of ASA’s mission encompasses ASA as professional association and national scholarly society for the whole discipline of sociology. This implies that while ASA focuses its resources on serving its dues-paying members, it does so in ways that also impact professional sociologists who are not ASA members, the discipline itself, and (hopefully) the larger public and policy makers. Because of this, ASA does not have one internal member constituency but many, and they are all active within the Association. (ASA has one of the highest voting rates in the association world.)
A few illustrations of what ASA’s constituencies ask for:
- the highest quality scholarship through ASA’s extensive journal publishing program and ASA’s small grants program to fund scholars who are advancing the discipline (FAD);
- the highest quality scholarship of teaching and learning through journals and the peer-reviewed digital library of teaching materials (TRAILS) as well as our competitive teaching enhancement fund (TEF) small grant program to fund creative teaching;
- research-based knowledge about the profession and discipline through the ASA Research Department which has a high success rate in securing competitive grants from federal agencies and foundations and in publishing its results;
- support of students through the ASA Minority Fellowship Program (MFP)—financially supported by regional and specialized sociology societies as well as the ASA, the Student Forum and Honors Program, specialized publications (e.g., ASA Guide to Graduate Departments, Independent Variable), and access to Interfolio Dossier, TRAILS,andASA Job Bank;
- advocacy for federal research funding through our extensive efforts as a governing member of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), and the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS);
- intra- and inter-disciplinary activities at the national and international levels through ASA’s organizational membership and active participation in the International Sociological Association (ISA), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).
- communication of sociological scholarship to the public and policy makers through ASA press releases to our national media network, connecting journalists with sociologists who can speak authoritatively via our Member Expert Database, actively engaging in social media, and developing a dynamic new website;
- support of sociology department chairs through the ASA Department Affiliates (DA) Program, Chairlink and chairs listserv, the ASA Department Resources Group of trained consultants, ASA research, and Interfolio ByCommittee as a recruitment and hiring tool for DAs;
- support of at-risk sociology departments by preparing extensive, tailored letters of support drawing upon empirical national and comparable department data developed by the ASA Research Department;
- support of retired sociologists through the Opportunities in Retirement Network (ORN) that was started by retired and retiring ASA members and is now institutionalized;
- support of community engaged sociologists through the ASA Community Action Resources Initiative small grants program;
- support of high school teachers of sociology through development and publication of the ASA National Standards for High School Sociology a national listserv of high school sociologists, and a new permanent High School Program;
- ethical support of sociologists affected by potentially unethical professional behavior by ASA members; and
- support of at-risk scholars through letters of concern signed by the ASA President(s) on behalf of the membership to governmental, political, or institutional leaders both internationally and in the U.S.
These are member-driven activities with the active engagement of staff. ASA has not increased its staffing level in several decades (about 27 to 29 FTEs), but has changed the type of staff in order to meet the challenges of ASA’s mission in the 21st century and to provide the technical expertise the Association needs to do so.
ASA could choose to continue to have progressive but lower dues. It could not do this, however, and continue to serve the internal constituencies or the Association’s larger disciplinary mission that the membership has encouraged and financially supported since at least the middle of the 20th century.
- March 11, 2011, Footnotes. “ASA Council Proposes Revised Dues Structure for Member Approval.”
- There was a member approved change to the dues in 2002 that involved payment for journal but not the income bands; the comparison of 2015 with 2002, therefore, is more comparable than going back to compare with 1997.
- 2002 was when the last substantive change in what members received as membership benefits changed before the change voted on in 2011. 2015 is the last year for which we have inflation-adjusted dues amounts.
- AAA has a $35 membership category for undergraduates.