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I am currently working on a paper in economics that has some dimensions that discuss women's social value. As is the case in developing countries a lot of economic studies do not exist whereas there are tons in Sociology. While I am not convinced by the sociology results, is it ok (from the perspective of a reviewer) to borrow from that to build a narrative.

For example, if I am looking at fertility levels in a country and there is a sociological study that speaks of the link of women's perceived value and her fertility which is rarely discussed in econ literature, could I potentially use this to discuss a point in my paper? Ergo, there is anthropological/sociological arguments that indicate that a woman's value in country x is linked to her fertility? Or is that too speculative from the standpoint of an economist?

As an economist myself, I am confused but then again I would use this to argue my point.

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    $\begingroup$ the other +1 answers already gave you sound advice, let me just offer a bit of further advice as comment. It is sometimes hard to judge how far you can go into interdisciplinary research. It is always best to have some people you trust not to steal your work (eg your dissertation advisor, friends from PhD etc) and have them read the paper first. If you are still not sure submit it first to workshops (but at that point consider already staking claim with preprint) and later to conferences before publishing. That way you will be able to gauge reactions and change things if you went too far $\endgroup$ – 1muflon1 Mar 29 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ Can you re-phrase "As is the case in developing countries a lot of economic studies do not exist whereas there are tons in Sociology…" so it makes sense in English? If you were looking at fertility levels and any study spoke of the link of women's perceived value and fertility, which is rarely discussed in econ literature, why would you not use that, to the extent you believed it? What research refutes what BBC Radio 4 told me this morning, that if fertility and even motherhood were ignored and women were welcomed into the workplace, even the greatest economy would grow be billions? $\endgroup$ – Robbie Goodwin Apr 1 at 22:02
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As long as the main results/conclusions of your paper don't rely solely on the non-economics literature you cite, you should be okay. In other words, it's perfectly fine to use non-economics literature to motivate or even as part of the support for your thesis, as long as you also include proper economic arguments, i.e. theoretical models or econometric analyses.

For example, Bidner and Eswaran (2015) theorized about the origin of the Indian caste system and cited quite a few sociological, anthropological, and biological literature to motivate their model.

Likewise, Caplan and Dean (2008), which provides axiomatic foundations for a neuroscientific hypothesis (that dopamine encodes the "reward prediction error"), is full of references to the psychology and neuroscience literature. The paper even includes an extended review of the non-economic literature and explains how they are relevant for economic decision-making.

Similar examples are plentiful, and they end up in high-rank journals because, notwithstanding their non-economics citations, those papers contain substantive economic contributions.

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There seem to be two things:

The first is that "perceived value" is not something that directly corresponds to something economists usually study. It might be related to, say, marriage patterns and household incomes, political power, or whatnot. If you can show that it is an important aspect of a problem that falls within the (vague) boundaries of economics, it is clearly relevant. Showing the relevance might require making it more operational and relating it to empirical quantities.

Second, you should explain how your contribution improves on the existing literature and fills an actual gap. The existing literature includes all relevant literature, not just econ papers. Here, you can actually benefit from the existing literature not using the kind of criteria usually used for economic research to explain why your contribution is an actual improvement, at least from an econ perspective.

Generally, it is very hard to answer such a question abstractly. I understand that you might not want to provide more details about your research, but this will probably limit how useful an answer you can get here.

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tl;dr You can cite whatever you want regardless of field. Of course, any finding that depends on another finding suffers the errors, unreliability, and limitations of its dependencies.


Quick comments:

  1. You do research, not "Economics research". Classification is a downstream matter that should be largely ignored throughout the research process. This is, don't think of your research as being in Economics or Math and then do anything differently on that basis; instead, just do proper research.

  2. Research can cite prior findings. Since this is upstream of classification, the downstream-classifications of the current research and its dependencies are largely irrelevant.

  3. Whenever your research rests on the correctness of prior findings, your research becomes dependent upon the correctness of those prior findings.

    • If those prior findings are approximate, then that error propagates through your own work.

    • If those prior findings are wrong, then your own work depending on those findings is also wrong.

    • If those prior findings are limited in scope, then your own work depending on those findings is limited to that scope.

  4. Fields can have significantly different standards. Like all classification-considerations, these differing standards are a downstream matter: for example, Social-Studies paper isn't necessarily of lower quality than a Physics paper, but rather it's generally observable that, in practice, Social-Studies papers tend to be of much lower quality than Physics papers.

  5. Because (3) and (4), we can say that it's often a bad idea to rely on claims made in less-pure research, but:

    • You can still cite less-pure research as long as you don't rely on it. For example, you can cite a horribly low-quality paper as an example of low-quality research without your own work becoming low-quality for it.

    • You can still cite high-quality findings from lower-standard fields. For example, while analyses done in Social-Studies papers may tend to be more likely to be dubious, sometimes the raw-data, e.g. the results of a large survey, might have some use.

In short, yes, studies positioned as being within Economics can cite studies positioned as being in other fields; the positioning itself isn't particularly important. However, while positioning itself isn't particularly important, it's unfortunately true that some topics are approached with such a disregard for rigor that they're basically just entertainment. While research might be profiled by field, proper determination may require consideration on a case-by-case basis.


For example, if I am looking at fertility levels in a country and there is a sociological study that speaks of the link of women's perceived value and her fertility which is rarely discussed in econ literature, could I potentially use this to discuss a point in my paper? Ergo, there is anthropological/sociological arguments that indicate that a woman's value in country x is linked to her fertility? Or is that too speculative from the standpoint of an economist?

You can cite work on a woman's value if it's correct work that's relevant to what you're doing. And you can discuss a woman's value if you do so in some meaningful, useful way.

For example, in discussing speeds:

  1. We can discuss the speed-at-which-all-light-travels-in-a-vacuum because that value has been observed to meaningfully exist across contexts.

  2. But, by contrast, it's hard to discuss the speed-at-which-all-cars-drive because that value hasn't been observed to meaningfully exist across contexts.

  3. Still, we can approximately discuss a notion of the speed-at-which-most-cars-drive-around-on-a-particular-road-on-a-particular-year in some cases. Though even then, speed-limits and driving patterns can change during a year, so this would still tend to be rough and not always work for all roads on all years, as some roads have changes on some years.

Still, some folks fallaciously believe that if they can term something, it must exist. For example, some folks might think:

  1. I can imagine the term "speed of all cars", so it must exist.

  2. I saw a car moving at 50 km/hr, therefore the "speed of all cars" must be 50 km/hr.

  3. Therefore, whenever a car's speed is needed, we can assume it to be 50 km/hr.

You don't want to make the same mistake. This is, you don't want to:

  1. Imagine the term "woman's value", then conclude it must be meaningful.

  2. Find some way of calculating a woman's value in one context to determine a woman's value.

  3. Assume that, whenever a woman's value is discussed, it must be the previously-determined value.

One potential hazard of citing literature on a woman's value would be mistaking the existence of such literature to imply the validity of the concept that there's such a thing as a value that women can be meaningfully assessed as having – and, presumably in your case, meaningfully altered by her fertility.

If you do want that, then presumably the first thing to find would be literature that precisely defines a woman's value and then rigorously establishes that the defined value exists. This, don't make the speed-of-all-cars mistake of assuming that the value meaningfully exists just because it has a definition.

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that the main problem with citing research outside your field is that you've misinterpreted it or are overgeneralizing it because you don't have the full context. (I've seen some economists writing about linguistics, and they're absolutely absurd.) $\endgroup$ – TRiG Mar 31 at 16:36

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