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Indicator III-6 Job Status of Humanities Ph.D.’s at Time of Graduation
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,".
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Updated 6/13/2013 with data for 2011.

Data on the fate of humanities Ph.D.’s in the working world are quite limited, because the one field-wide source of information (the SED) can tell us only about the immediate plans of Ph.D. holders at the time of graduation. Nevertheless, the annual SED (which gathers its information from research doctorate recipients as they complete their degrees from U.S. educational institutions), highlights two important trends—a declining proportion of humanities Ph.D.’s are completing their studies with a job already in hand, and a growing segment are taking postdoctoral positions.

The 2006–2011 period saw a substantial decrease in the proportion of humanities Ph.D.’s leaving the university with a firm job commitment (in academe or another sector). In 2011, 47 out of every 100 new humanities Ph.D.’s reported such commitments, a share 21% smaller than in 2006 (Figure III-6a). Over the same time period, the science and engineering (STEM) fields also experienced declines in the share of new Ph.D.’s with job commitments, with decreases ranging from 17% for the social sciences to 25% for the life sciences.1 Setting the humanities apart from STEM fields is the fact that the decline in the share of new Ph.D.’s with employment commitments in science and engineering began earlier. While 2001–2006 was marked by a decrease in the proportion of new STEM Ph.D. recipients with firm employment commitments (particularly pronounced among engineering graduates), this period saw a slight uptick in the share of those earning humanities doctorates who had secured employment.

Figure III-6a, Full Size
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Although humanities Ph.D.’s have been likelier than Ph.D.’s in STEM fields to leave their programs with employment commitments, the share of new Ph.D.’s with a definite commitment of a paid position of any kind has tended to be higher in the sciences and engineering because a far larger proportion of these graduates obtain commitments for postdoctoral study. Whereas less than 10% of new humanities Ph.D. recipients in 2011 reported postdoctoral study commitments, 26% or more of their counterparts in STEM fields did so. As a result, while 57% of new humanities Ph.D. recipients reported some form of definite commitment, the rates for the science and engineering fields ranged from 63% to 70%. When all fields are considered together, 66% of new Ph.D.’s had a definite employment or study commitment in 2011.

Although a relatively small proportion, 9.9%, 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 4.5% of humanities Ph.D.’s reported that they would go on to postdoctoral study.

Among those new Ph.D.’s who reported definite commitments for employment in the United States in 2011, humanities Ph.D.’s were much more likely to have a commitment for academic employment than their counterparts in the STEM fields (Figure III-6b). Approximately 84% 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), a share similar to that observed over the previous 20 years. 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 61%. For new engineering Ph.D.’s the share was 14%. In the STEM fields, the shares of new doctorate recipients with job commitments in government or business/industry were considerably larger than those observed among new humanities Ph.D.’s.

Figure III-6b, Full Size
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1 Please see Supplementary Table III-6 for additional information regarding certain of the employment sectors and fields of study to which Figures III-6a and III-6b refer.

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