Trends in Professional Association Membership and Revenues in the United States: Smaller but Richer?

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:30
Oral Presentation
Kyle ALBERT, Harvard University, USA
In the literature on professions, it is often assumed that professional associations represent the interests of the professions they serve, yet not all professionals are members of associations. How do changes in the numbers and demographics of association members affect their advocacy and closure missions? I conduct quantitative research using membership data from the National Survey of College Graduates in the United States to track the changing demographics of professional membership associations between 1993 and 2015 and revenue data from publicly-available tax documents filed by a sample of professional associations over a comparable time period. I find that professional association membership has been characterized by an overall downward trend among US college graduates, continuing the pattern of falling membership in the 1980s and 90s documented in Robert Putnam’s work on social capital. Membership decline has been particularly sharp among older and lower income workers, as well as those in managerial positions. Thus, with respect to membership, it appears that professional associations in American are becoming younger and richer.

However, by many qualitative and quantitative indicators (e.g., statistics on employment in the meetings industry), US professional associations remain strong. Using tax filings for a stratified sample of professional associations representing various sectors of the labor market, I find evidence that the overall resources of the association sector have not fallen in direct proportion to membership levels. Revenue from non-dues sources, such as conferences, certification and training programs, and publications, grew to displace some of the revenue lost as professionals left their associations. I argue that the changing demography of membership associations and changes in the revenue sources that such associations rely upon may lead to professional membership associations that are less representative of the professions they serve, which may in turn affect their interest in advancing the professionalization of their fields.