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Indicator III-3 Occupations of College Graduates Who Majored in Humanities Disciplines
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators, http://HumanitiesIndicators.org".
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Updated (11/23/2011) with data from the 2009 American Community Survey.

Data pertaining to the occupations of college graduates who majored in the humanities and other fields are now available from the ACS, which has been administered on an annual basis by the U.S. Census Bureau since 2005. The ACS replaced the “long form” version of the decennial census and collects information—used to allocate more than $400 billion in state and federal funding—about Americans’ personal characteristics, family composition, employment, income, and housing.

This indicator uses ACS data to describe the occupational distribution of two distinct groups. The first comprises holders of terminal bachelor’s degrees in the humanities. The second group is the subset of employed1 humanities majors who, as of 2009, held advanced degrees in the humanities or other fields (information on the field of advanced degrees is not collected as a part of the ACS). As Supplemental Table III-3 indicates, employment rates were similar for the two groups, with approximately 84% of humanities terminal bachelor’s holders (TBHs) and 86% of advanced degree holders (ADHs) having worked at some point in the five years before they responded to the ACS.2 The HI has chosen to focus its analysis not merely on the currently employed but on those college graduates who were employed at any time in the previous five years, because the objective of this indicator is to shed as much light as possible on what humanities majors go on to do in the way of paid employment and how this compares to the occupational outcomes of those who majored in other fields. To consider only the currently employed would be to lose information regarding, for example, the employment experiences of the recently retired or those who have temporarily exited the paid labor force to care for children or an elderly family member or to go back to school.

This indicator also compares the occupational distribution of humanities majors with those who earned bachelor’s degrees in other fields. The fields differ with respect to the employment rates of their majors. Supplemental Table III-3 supplies information that facilitates comparison of the different fields along this dimension.

In 2009, slightly more than half of humanities TBHs, 56%, worked in management, professional, and related occupations (Figure III-3a).3 These workers included the 15% of humanities TBHs who were in education-related occupations, approximately two-thirds of them in precollegiate teaching. Another 12% worked as managers of various kinds. The two next most prevalent types of occupations in the management and professional category were business and financial operations and arts, design, entertainment, and media, with approximately 7% of humanities TBHs holding jobs in each of these two broad occupational categories.

Figure III-3a, Full Size
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Looking beyond managerial/professional jobs, approximately 15% of terminal bachelor’s holders in the humanities worked in office and administrative support occupations. A similar proportion, 14%, worked in sales, while 9% held service jobs.

Figure III-3b compares humanities TBHs with workers who earned their terminal bachelor’s degrees in other fields. Although humanities majors were less likely than those in most other fields to hold professional, managerial, or related occupations, humanities majors were the likeliest, with the exception of those who majored in education, to work in the educational profession. Humanities TBHs were also more likely to work in office and administrative support positions than were TBHs in any other field. Additionally, compared to TBHs in other fields, humanities majors were more evenly distributed across major occupational categories, a characteristic they shared with behavioral and social science TBHs.

Figure III-3b, Full Size
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In 2009, approximately 44% of people with humanities bachelor’s degrees who had worked in the previous five years possessed an advanced degree (Figure III-3c). The humanities majors’ percentage was most similar to that of workers with undergraduate training in education and the behavioral and social sciences. Workers who had majored in the life or physical sciences had advanced degree completion rates of 57% and 54% and were the most likely to have pursued such additional academic training. Workers with majors in engineering, health and medical science, arts, and business were less likely than working humanities majors to have earned advanced degrees. Workers who were business majors were the least likely to have obtained an advanced degree, with approximately 22% having done so.

Figure III-3c, Full Size
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Humanities majors with advanced degrees were more likely to be working in management, professional, and related jobs than were majors in the same field who had not pursued additional education (Figure III-3d). Eighty-six percent of humanities ADHs worked in occupations of this kind. Among such occupations, those related to education were the most prevalent, with 31% of all humanities ADHs working in such jobs, more than twice the percentage of TBHs who did so. Approximately 14% of humanities ADHs were in precollegiate teaching and 11% in postsecondary. Legal occupations were the next most common among ADHs who had majored in the humanities. Approximately 14% worked in such jobs.4

Figure III-3d, Full Size
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A cross-field analysis reveals that the disparity between humanities ADHs and ADHs in other fields who held managerial, professional, or related positions was less pronounced than that observed among TBHs (Figure III-3e). A comparison of the fields also reveals that humanities ADHs and those with behavioral and social science majors (approximately 15% of whom worked in legal professions) were several times more likely than those with other types of undergraduate majors to have legal jobs. As with humanities TBHs, humanities ADHs were more evenly distributed across the major occupational sectors examined here than were their counterparts with undergraduate majors in other fields.

Figure III-3e, Full Size
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Humanistic training at the undergraduate level seems to equip people—by offering them marketable skills and/or allowing them to successfully pursue advanced training—to operate in a variety of occupational roles. Approximately 19% of humanities TBHs and 36% of humanities ADHs worked in “applied humanities” occupations. This occupational category encompasses education-related jobs (although the ACS data do not indicate whether those working in education are teaching humanities subjects or administering programs with a humanities orientation), museum and library occupations, writers, news analysts, reporters and correspondents, editors (text), and tour and travel guides.5 However, the data suggest that the bulk of humanities majors—including, for example, the almost 8% of humanities ADHs who were employed in community and social service occupations—worked in occupations that were not directly related to the disciplines in which they received their degrees.6


Notes

1 At any time in the previous five years.

2 Supplemental Table III-3 also supplies an estimate of the proportion of humanities majors who were employed when they completed the ACS questionnaire (approximately 93% for those with terminal bachelor’s degrees in the humanities and 96% of those who had majored in the humanities and then obtained an advanced degree in the humanities or some other field). This rate is calculated by dividing the number of currently employed degree holders by the number of degree holders in the labor force. The way in which the current employment rate is calculated thus results in a proportion that, counterintuitively, is higher than the share of college graduates who were employed in the previous five years (the latter calculation includes all college graduates with a given degree in the denominator, even those who were not in the labor force at the time of the survey). See Supplemental Table III-3 for a link to a definition of “labor force” and other key concepts.

3 Respondents who had more than one job in the previous five years were asked to report the job at which they worked the most hours.

4 For an estimate of the share of attorneys who have undergraduate degrees in the humanities, see Indicator III-5, Undergraduate Humanities Majors and the Professions.

5 TBHs in “applied humanities” occupations include educators (14.5% of all humanities TBHs); museum and library staff (0.7%); writers (1.7%); news analysts, reporters, and correspondents (0.4%); text editors (1.3%); and tour and travel guides (0.1%).

ADHs in “applied humanities” occupations include educators (30.5% of all humanities ADHs); museum and library staff (2.43%); writers (1.54%); news analysts, reporters, and correspondents (0.26%); text editors (1.04%); and tour and travel guides (0.04%).

6 This conclusion seems justified even though the way in which ACS classifies occupations does not allow for the counting of humanities majors working in other occupations, such as translators and historians, that can be thought of as humanistic in their orientation.

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