Where the Social Science Jobs Are

Sociologists find that their retirement and unemployment rates are up, relative to other disciplines. Political science jobs show uptick.
December 14, 2006

Is Florida's population of sociologists booming?

That could be the case, based on an analysis released by the American Sociological Association showing a significant increase over the last 10 years in the proportion of sociologists who are retired. The analysis compared sociologists with other social scientists, and found that while all the disciplines are seeing more of their members retire, sociologists are doing so at a higher rate, which did not used to be the case. And other data released by the association show that sociologists have a higher unemployment rate than do other social scientists. (The data on which the studies are based do not count retirees as unemployed.)

While sociologists ponder the meaning of these figures, political scientists are getting good news about the job market in their field, which is seeing a growth in openings.

The sociological group periodically examines the state of its discipline, but the retirement analysis is a new project. It was based on figures collected by the National Science Foundation on the employment status of Ph.D.'s in the sciences. In 1993, a sociology Ph.D. was less likely to be retired than would a political scientist or economics Ph.D. Now that is reversed.

Percentage of Social Science Ph.D.'s Who Are Retired

Field 1993 2003
Economics 9.1% 11.2%
Political science 7.4% 10.8%
Psychology 4.6% 6.2%
Sociology 6.2% 11.7%
Other social sciences 6.7% 8.3%

Lots of sociology retirements would seemingly create lots of job openings. But during the same time period, the unemployment rate for sociology Ph.D.'s doubled (although from a small base), while the unemployment rates for economics and political science Ph.D.'s dropped.

Percentage of Social Science Ph.D.'s Who Are Unemployed

Field 1993 2003
Economics 1.4% 0.9%
Political science 2.0% 1.4%
Psychology 1.5% 1.7%
Sociology 1.3% 2.6%
Other social sciences 1.6% 1.5%

The sociology association isn't sure what the data mean, but is planning a departmental survey to try to figure out. Roberta Spalter-Roth, director of research, said that the last time the group did a departmental survey -- in 2001-2 -- it found that most departments were filling the positions of those retiring. But with more people retiring, and concerns about the growing use of part-time faculty members, the association wants to get a current picture.

The data could suggest "that replacement isn't taking place," and that would be worrisome, Spalter-Roth said. The results may also point to the need for sociology Ph.D. programs to spend more time preparing students for non-academic careers, she said.

Good News for Political Scientists

The news is more encouraging in another social science. The American Political Science Association has released a study finding that the number of jobs it has posted in the last academic year reached 1,043, up from 957 and 908 the previous two years. While not all political science jobs are posted with the association, its listings cover a broad cross-section of academic jobs in the discipline.

About half of the positions being advertised are for assistant professors, and that category of job posting is up by about 10 percent.

Within the discipline, the top specialties in terms of openings are (in order) American politics, international relations, and comparative politics.


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