Humanities Indicators
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Workforce  >  Career Paths of Graduates with Advanced Degrees in the Humanities
 
Job Status of Humanities Ph.D.'s at Time of Graduation
(Updated October 2016)

The annual Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED)—which gathers a variety of data from research doctorate recipients when they complete their degrees at U.S. educational institutions—highlights two important trends: a declining proportion of humanities Ph.D.’s are completing their studies with a job in hand, and a growing segment are taking postdoctoral positions.

Findings and Trends

  • After a decade-and-a-half at over 50%, the 2009–2014 period saw a drop in the proportion of humanities Ph.D.’s finishing their degrees with a firm job commitment (whether in academe or another sector). In 2014, 44 out of every 100 new humanities Ph.D.’s reported such commitments, a share 19% smaller than in 2009 (Indicator III-6a). Over the same time period, the science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) fields also experienced declines in the share of new Ph.D.’s with job commitments, with decreases ranging from 2% for the physical sciences to 12% for the engineering field and all at or close to their lowest points in the two decades for which data are available.
  • Humanities Ph.D.’s have been more likely than STEM Ph.D.’s to leave their programs with employment commitments. Because of a larger share of graduates going on to postdoctoral studies, however, the sciences and engineering had a larger share of new Ph.D.’s with a definite commitment for a paid position of some kind. While 10% of new humanities Ph.D. recipients in 2014 reported postdoctoral study commitments, 19–38% of their counterparts in STEM fields did so. As a result, while 54% of new humanities Ph.D. recipients reported some form of definite commitment, the rates for the science and engineering fields ranged from 57% to 69%. When all fields are considered together, 61% of new Ph.D.’s had a definite employment or study commitment in 2014. And in every field, a smaller share of new Ph.D.’s reported a firm job or study commitment in 2014 than in 2009.
  • Although a relatively small proportion, 10%, of humanities Ph.D. recipients reported commitments for postdoctoral study in 2011, this still represents a substantial increase over previous cohorts. Two decades earlier, only 3.8% of humanities Ph.D.’s reported that they would go on to postdoctoral study.
  • In the two decades from 1994 and 2014, new humanities Ph.D.’s with definite employment commitments were much more likely to have a commitment for academic employment than their counterparts in the STEM fields (Indicator III-6b). In 2014, 83% of humanities doctoral degree recipients with employment commitments indicated they would be taking jobs in the academic sector (including full- and part-time faculty and administrative appointments). By comparison, in the social sciences (the STEM field with the highest share of new Ph.D.’s with employment commitments in academe), the share was 60%. For new engineering Ph.D.’s the share was 15%, the smallest proportion among the fields examined here.
  • In the STEM fields, the share of new doctorate recipients with job commitments in government or business/industry was considerably larger than that observed among new humanities Ph.D.’s.
  • In 2014, just under 5% of new humanities Ph.D.’s with firm employment commitments were going into the “Other” category, which includes mainly elementary and secondary schools. This share was larger than that in any of the STEM fields, although in earlier years the social sciences outstripped the humanities in this regard.
III-6a: Doctorate Recipients with Definite Employment or Further Study Commitments at Time of Graduation, Selected Academic Fields, 1994–2014*

* Reported percentages were calculated on those Ph.D. completers responding to the pertinent survey items (rates of response were not 100%). Please see Supplementary Table III-6 for additional information regarding certain of the fields of study to which this figure refers.

Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org). Data drawn from National Science Foundation (NSF), National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2014—Data Tables,” tables 42, 44, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16300/data-tables.cfm (accessed 8/9/2016). The NSF web resource reports data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Education, National Endowment for the Humanities, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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III-6b: Employment Sector of Doctorate Recipients with Definite Postgraduation U.S. Employment Commitments, Selected Academic Fields, 1994–2014*

* Reported percentages were calculated on those Ph.D. completers who responded to the pertinent survey items (rates of response were not 100%). Please see Supplementary Table III-6 for additional information regarding certain of the employment sectors and fields of study to which this figure refers.

Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org). Data drawn from National Science Foundation (NSF), National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2014—Data Tables,” table 46, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16300/data-tables.cfm (accessed 8/9/2016). The NSF web resource reports data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Education, National Endowment for the Humanities, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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