First, as Figure 1 shows, the number of yearly submissions to the five top journals nearly doubled from 1990 to 2012. The increases are especially large for QJE and RES, but are clearly present for all the journals except JPE, which received about the same number of submissions in 2011 as in 1987-1989. It is also interesting to note that most of the secular increase in submissions documented in the figure has occurred since the year 2000.
Second, as Figure 2 shows, the total number of articles published in the top journals declined from about 400 per year in the late 1970s to around 300 per year in 2010-12. The combination of rising submissions and falling publications led to a sharp fall in the aggregate acceptance rate, from around 15% in 1980 to 6% today.
Over time, and especially during the last 15 years, it has become increasingly difficult to publish in the top five journals. Other things equal, this suggests that hiring and promotion benchmarks based on top-five publications (e.g., “at least one top-five publication for tenure”) are significantly harder to reach.
--David Card and Stefano DellaVigna, Vox, on less publishing, more perishing