Healthy but Mismatched History Job Market

Openings are up while number of new Ph.D.'s is down, but doctorate specialties aren't always where the positions are.
January 2, 2008

The overall numbers look good for historians on the job market this year, but the total figures hide the surpluses of would-be professors in some fields, shortages in others and a decrease in the percentage of new Ph.D.'s going to women.

Data released by the American Historical Association in advance of this week's annual meeting in Washington project that 940 new history Ph.D.'s will have been awarded in 2007, a slight dip from the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of history jobs listed in Perspectives, an AHA publication, is expected to be steady at about 1,030. (While not all job openings in history at listed in Perspectives, many are and the publication provides a good sense of direction in the job market.) This means that for the first time in the past 25 years, the number of known openings exceeded the number of new Ph.D.'s for three consecutive years.

That's obviously good news for new Ph.D.'s. But analysis of the data by Robert Townsend, the AHA's assistant director for research and publications, shows why the graduate students traveling to Washington for job interviews at the annual meeting do not necessarily have the odds in their favor. That's because history departments continue to produce more Ph.D.'s in some areas (American and European history) than there are jobs in those subfields, while not producing enough Ph.D.'s to match demand in some areas.

History Specializations of New Ph.D.’s and Job Openings

Specialty Ph.D. Recipients Jobs Advertised
American history 40.2% 26.5%
Asian history 8.2% 11.2%
European history 22.2% 19.4%
African history 2.8% 3.4%
Latin American history 5.0% 4.8%
Thematic, world or other history 21.6% 34.8%

Also notable in the new data are trends about the demographics of the new history Ph.D.'s. The proportion of new doctorates going to women fell slightly, while the percentages going to minority students in the United States and to foreign students rose.

The decline for women -- to 40.9 percent from 41.6 percent -- is the third decline in the last 10 years, and comes a time that a majority of Ph.D.'s in the humanities are being awarded to women. A report issued by the association in 2005 found that while women have made numerous advances in the discipline since the 1970s, recent progress has been stalled.

In recent years, increases for foreign students have been more dramatic than those for minority Americans and the former percentage is now quite close to the latter (13.5 percent vs. 14.1 percent).

Diversity in Cohorts of New Ph.D.'s Over Last 10 Years

Year of Ph.D. % to Foreign Students % to Minority Students % to Women
1997 7.0% 10.9% 37.1%
1998 6.1% 12.1% 39.0%
1999 7.8% 11.6% 39.6%
2000 8.2% 12.4% 38.3%
2001 8.2% 12.9% 40.3%
2002 8.1% 12.1% 40.0%
2003 8.4% 13.2% 40.1%
2004 8.7% 13.5% 41.5%
2005 12.8% 13.3% 41.6%
2006 13.5% 14.1% 40.9%


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