Another Drop for Sociology

As the American Sociological Association gets ready to gather for its annual meeting later this month in Atlanta, the job market news remains glum.

August 2, 2010

As the American Sociological Association gets ready to gather for its annual meeting later this month in Atlanta, the job market news remains glum.

An association report issued Friday shows a 35 percent decline in the number of academic job postings in its job bank between 2008 and 2009, and that drop follows a 23 percent drop between 2006 and 2008, the year that the economic downturn started in full. (While not all sociology jobs are listed with the association, the job bank is a good proxy for the overall market, especially for tenure-track positions.)

Sociology is but the latest discipline to report depressing job figures. In the last year, sharp declines have been reported (either in job listings or projected jobs for the coming year) in literature and languages, history, economics, art history and other fields.

While the ASA report says that the discipline is experiencing "the most challenging job market in memory," it expresses at least hope that things could get better soon. "[I]t is possible that the sociology job market hit bottom in 2009 and we can expect some recovery in 2010 and 2011," the report says. "We expect that after the recession, universities will open lines that have been canceled and senior faculty members that are deferring their retirements may retire from the academy."

The report also advises new Ph.D.'s who are "frustrated by the tight academic job market" to consider moves to "broaden their searches to research, applied and policy positions outside the academy." The report notes that there appears to be increased interest in hiring Ph.D.s for these types of jobs, that they typically pay better than do academic jobs, and that many sociology Ph.D.s are happy in such positions and believe that they still make good use of their doctoral training.

But the ASA report acknowledges that graduate programs may not be doing a good job of preparing their grad students for such a shift. In surveys of sociology Ph.D.s who have left academe, the report says, their "biggest complaints were that they received too little information about non-academic jobs, and that they wished there would be a reduction of snobbery about such jobs."

For those who are seeking jobs in academe, about the only good news in the latest study was that departments that start searches these days tend to finish them. This may be in contrast to searches (in many disciplines) that were approved in the summer or early fall of 2008, before the economy experienced such a dramatic fall, and that were then called off.

Across all departments that posted job announcements in 2009, 83 percent ended with the jobs filled. As was the case last year, baccalaureate institutions were the most likely to bring searches to a successful conclusion. All categories of institutions, however, were more likely to fill positions in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Percentage of Sociology Job Announcements That Led to a Hire, 2008 and 2009

Sector 2008 2009
Research universities 59.9% 76.5%
Doctoral universities 76.1% 83.6%
Master's institutions 69.6% 86.7%
Baccalaureate institutions 87.0% 90.7%


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