• Ahn, Sang-Hyeon (Center for Theoretical Astronomy, Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute)
  • Received : 2019.05.02
  • Accepted : 2019.07.23
  • Published : 2019.10.31


It is known that the number of astronomers of a country registered to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is correlated with that country's gross domestic product (GDP). However, the robustness of this relationship could be doubted, as the fraction of astronomers joining the IAU differs from country to country. Here we revisit this correlation by using more recent data, updated as of 2017. We find a similar correlation by using the total number of astronomers and astrophysicists with PhD degrees that are working in each country, instead of adopting the number of IAU members. We confirm the existence of the correlation. We also confirm the existence of two subgroups within this correlation. One group consists of advanced European countries having a long history of modern astronomy, while the other group consists of countries having experienced recent rapid economic development. In order to determine the cause for the correlation, we obtained the long-term variations of the number of astronomers, population, and the GDP for a number of countries. We find that the number of astronomers per capita for recently developing countries has increased more rapidly as GDP per capita increased, than that for fully developed countries. We collected demographic data of the Korean astronomical community and find that it has experienced recent rapid growth. From these findings we estimate the proper size of the Korean astronomical community by considering Korea economic power and population. The current number of PhD astronomers working in Korea is approximately 310, but it should be 550 in order for it to be comparable and competitive to the sizes of the Spanish, Canadian, and Japanese astronomical communities. If current trends continue, this number will be reached by 2030. In order to be comparable to the German, French, and Italian communities, there should be 800 PhD astronomers in Korea. We discuss ways to overcome the vulnerability of the Korean astronomical community, based on the statistics of national R&D expenditure structure in comparison with that of other major advanced countries.


sociology of astronomy;methods: data analysis;methods: statistical


  1. Barcons, X. 2007, Astronomy in Spain, Messenger, 127, 4
  2. Boland, W. & Habing H. 2013, Astronomy in the Nether-lands, in Proc. Organizations, People and Strategies in Astronomy 2 (OPSA 2), ed. Heck, A., Venngeist, 145 (
  3. Gorgas, J. 2016, Astronomy in Spain, Segundo Estudio de Recursos Humanos en Astronomia y Astrofisica en Es-pana, SEA Boletin, 35, 38
  4. Hearnshaw, J. N. 2001, Critical Factors for a Successful As-tronomical Research Program in a Developing Country, in Astron. Soc. Pacific Conf. Series, A Special Session on Astronomy in Developing Countries, ed. Batten, A. H., 23 (San Francisco: Astronomical Society of the Pacific)
  5. Hearnshaw, J. N. 2006, A Survey of Published Astronomical Outputs of Countries from 1976 to 2005 and the Depen-dence of Output on Population, Number of IAU Members and Gross Domestic Product, in Proc. Astronomy for the developing world, IAU Special Session no. 5, eds. Hearn-shaw, J. B. & Martinez, P., 9 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
  6. Henneken, E. & Kurtz, M. J. 2019, Usage Bibliometrics as a Tool to Measure Research Activity, in Springer Handbook of Science and Technology Indicators, eds. W. Glaenzel, H. F. Moed, U. Schmoch, & M. Thelwall, Berlin: Springer (arXiv:1706.02153)
  7. Hohmann, E., Glatt, V., & Tetsworth, K. 2017, Worldwide Orthopaedic Research Activity 2010-2014: Publication Rates in the Top 15 Orthopaedic Journals Related to Population Size and Gross Domestic Product, World J. Orthopedics, 8, 514
  8. Ip, W.-H. 2017, The Development of Astronomy and Emer-gence of Astrophysics in Taiwan, in The Emergence of Astrophysics in Asia: Opening a New Window on the Universe, eds. Nakamura, T & Orchison, W., 257 (Basel: Springer)
  9. King, D. A. 2004, The Scientific Impact of Nations, Science, 430, 311
  10. Korean Astronomical Society 2018, Annual Report of Member Institutes, Bull. Korean Astron. Soc., 43, 31
  11. Kurtz, M. J. et al. 2005, Worldwide Use and Impact of the NASA Astrophysics Data System Digital Library, J. Amer. Soc. Inform. Sci. Tech., 65, 1
  12. Lee, H. M. et al., 2017, A New Leap of Korean Astronomy: 2017-2022 Development Plan, 41 (Daejeon: Korean Astron. Soc.)
  13. Lee, S.-Y. & Kim, Y.-R. 2018, Comparison of the National R&D Investment with Those of Major Countries, KISTEP Statistics Brief No. 23
  14. Mamon, G. A. 2003, The Selection of Tenured Astronomers in France, in Organizations and Strategies in Astronomy IV, ed. Heck, A., Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers (astro-ph/0303552)
  15. Massey, R. et al. 2017, Our Scientific Community in 2016, Astron. Geophys., 58, 6.14
  16. May, R. M. 1997, The Scientific Wealth of Nations, Science, 275, 793
  17. McWhinnie, S. 2017, The Demographics and Research Interests of the UK Astronomy and Geophysics Communities 2016, Chapter 3: Results from the Departmental and Research Establishment Questionnaires, 12 (Oxford: Oxford Research and Policy)
  18. Moed, H. F. 2005, Citation Analysis in Research Evaluation (Dordrecht: Springer)
  19. Murdin, P. 2012, The Demography of Astronomy in the United Kingdom, in Organizations, People and Strategies in Astronomy I (OPSA I), ed. Heck, A., Venngeist, 55
  20. National Science Board 2018, Science and Engineering Indicators 2018. NSB-2018-1, Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation (
  21. Pold, J. & Ivie, R. 2017, Summary Results, in Workforce Survey of 2016 US AAS Members, Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics
  22. Ribeiro, V. A. R. M., Russo, P. & Cardenas-Avendano A. 2013, A Survey of Astronomical Research: an Astronomy for Development Baseline, AJ, 146, 138
  23. Sadler, E. M. 2017, The Future of Astronomy in Australia, Nature Astronomy, 1, 592
  24. Sawa, T. 2000, What Will Be the Future of Astronomical Research Environment? - The First Demographic Survey of Astronomers in Japan, Astron. Herald (Tenmongeppo), 93, 29 (
  25. Sciortino, S. 2013, Italian Astronomy at the Beginning of the 21st century, in Proc. Organizations, People and Strategies in Astronomy 2 (OPSA 2), ed. Heck, A., 119 (