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 June 2018)

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 three trends: a declining proportion of humanities Ph.D.’s are completing their studies with a job in hand, a growing segment are taking postdoctoral study positions, and the share of new Ph.D.’s with jobs in academia has declined in recent years.

Findings and Trends

  • Among new Ph.D. recipients in 2016, those in the humanities were the least likely to have definite employment or postdoctoral study commitment when they graduated (Indicator III-6a). While 52% new humanities Ph.D. recipients reported a firm commitment, almost 62% of doctoral degree recipients from all fields combined had such a commitment.
  • From 1996 to 2006, the share of new humanities Ph.D.’s with a job in hand increased to nearly 60%, but the percentage then fell sharply over the next decade, to 41%. The science (including the behavioral and social sciences), technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) fields, most of which peaked somewhat earlier with respect to job commitments (in 2001), also experienced declines in the share of new Ph.D.’s with a job in hand. Like humanities Ph.D.’s, doctorate recipients in engineering experienced a decline of approximately a third in the share with a job commitment. Among the other STEM fields, the decline was somewhat less pronounced: 20–23% from the 2001 high point.
  • In comparison to other fields, a relatively small—but growing—share of humanities Ph.D.’s went on to postdoctoral studies. In 2016, 11% of new humanities Ph.D. recipients reported plans for postdoctoral study, up substantially from 4% two decades earlier. While the share of humanities graduates with postdoc commitments grew, it was still far smaller than the shares among graduates from the STEM fields, which ranged from 20% (among engineering Ph.D.’s) to 37% (among doctoral degree recipients in the life sciences).
  • New humanities Ph.D.’s with a definite employment commitment were much more likely to have a commitment for academic employment than their counterparts in the STEM fields (Indicator III-6b). In 2016, 76% of humanities doctoral degree recipients with an employment commitment in the U.S. indicated they would be taking a job in the academic sector (including full- and part-time faculty and administrative appointments). By comparison, in the behavioral and social sciences (the STEM field with the highest share of new Ph.D.’s with an employment commitment in academe), the share entering academia in 2016 was 54%. For new engineering Ph.D.’s the share was 14%, the smallest proportion among the fields examined here. While the humanities’ share was substantially larger than the shares for STEM, it was the smallest experienced by the field in the 20 years examined as part of this analysis.
  • In the STEM fields, the share of new doctorate recipients with a job commitment in government or business and industry was considerably larger than the share among new humanities Ph.D.’s. Less than 8% of 2016 humanities Ph.D.’s reported employment in government or industry, compared to 31.5% among behavioral and social science Ph.D.’s, who were the least likely among STEM graduates to have secured employment in these sectors. Taking all fields together, 42% of new Ph.D.’s had jobs of this kind.
  • Almost 8% of 2016 humanities Ph.D.’s had an employment commitment in the nonprofit sector (excluding academic institutions). The share among Ph.D.’s in general was approximately 6%.
  • In 2016, just over 8% of new humanities Ph.D.’s had a firm employment commitment in the “Other” category, which includes elementary and secondary schools. This share was most similar to that found among behavioral and social science Ph.D.’s (6.5%). Doctorate recipients in the other STEM fields were less likely to have a job commitment in this category.
III-6a: Doctorate Recipients with a Definite Employment or Further Study Commitment at Time of Graduation, Selected Academic Fields, 1996–2016*

* 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. Note that the National Science Foundation, the collector of these data, includes computer science in the physical sciences (rather than in engineering as the Humanities Indicators does).

Source: National Science Foundation (NSF), National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2016—Data Tables,” tables 42, 44, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16300/data-tables.cfm (accessed 1/29/2018). These tables report data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates, which is sponsored by the NSF, 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. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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III-6b: Employment Sector of Doctorate Recipients with a Definite Postgraduation U.S. Employment Commitment, Selected Academic Fields, 1996–2016*

* 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. Note that the National Science Foundation, the collector of these data, includes computer science in the physical sciences (rather than in engineering as the Humanities Indicators does).

Source: National Science Foundation (NSF), National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2016—Data Tables,” tables 42, 44, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16300/data-tables.cfm (accessed 1/29/2018). These tables report data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates, which is sponsored by the NSF, 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. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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