Sociology Job Market Improves

Number of searches was up dramatically in 2010, but still lags figures from 2008. And grad students' interests create "mismatch" issues with available positions.
August 22, 2011

LAS VEGAS -- In 2010, the number of assistant professor and open rank positions listed in sociology increased by 32 percent, suggesting the start of a recovery in what has been a troubled job market, according to a report released here Saturday by the American Sociological Association.

The figures represent good news for new sociology Ph.D.s, but the report also includes many reasons why finding a job will hardly be easy for those on the market. First off, the 32 percent increase follows a 35 percent drop the previous year, and smaller drops in the two-year period before that. That means that there are many new Ph.D.s who remain unemployed or underemployed in the field. There are also signs that some current graduate students have delayed completion due to the job market, and will soon join others seeking good jobs.

Finally, data from the association point to a continued "mismatch" issue in which the specialties of most interest to hiring departments and those of interest to graduate students are not aligned.

The data in the survey come from jobs listed in the job bank of the American Sociological Association, which kicked off its annual meeting here this weekend. Not all jobs are listed with the association, but its trends are seen by most in the field as reflecting the job market in the discipline. Even with the caveats noted in the report, its tone was much more positive than it has been in recent years. "[T]he job market in sociology appears to have bottomed out and a recovery seems to have begun," says the report, by Roberta Spalter-Roth, director of research at the association; Janene Scelza, a research associate there; and Jerry Jacobs, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

The trend in sociology comes amid a very mixed outlook in the humanities and social sciences, with some signs of recovery, but plenty of signs of continued job market difficulties. (Here are articles on the most recent job reports in languages and literature, history, economics and political science.)

The data in the sociology report suggest that the job market is much healthier for those in some specialties (especially those in criminal justice and related fields) than in others. For several years now, criminology courses within sociology departments and criminal justice programs (sometimes affiliated with sociology departments and sometimes not) have seen booming enrollments and, as a result, considerable faculty hiring. While criminology has long been a key part of sociology, the broader field of sociology has shown some ambivalence about the subfield's growth. Some sociologists believe that some of the new criminology programs lack enough of the foundation courses in sociology, and some in criminal justice feel that sociology looks down on them or simply views their courses as cash cows.

This year's report from the ASA shows a continued strong job market in that specialty, with 30.9 percent of jobs listed being part of the broad field of "social control, law, crime and deviance." (This may understate the availability of criminology-related jobs because some searches focus on criminal justice associations, not the sociology association.) But in a prime example of the mismatch between available jobs and student interests, when graduate students were surveyed on their top areas of interest, that category was the 7th most popular area. The top area of graduate student interest is "inequalities and stratification," but that is the sixth most popular area of job postings.

Other areas of strong graduate student interest -- but lesser job market demand -- include the sociology of culture, and gender and sexuality. Other areas where job demand outpaces graduate student interest include medical sociology and quantitative approaches.

Job Availability vs. Graduate Student Interests in Sociology

Specialization Rank Among Job Listings Rank Among Graduate Student Interests
Social control, law, crime and deviance 1 7
Politics and social change 2 2
Place and environment 3 10
Race and ethnicity 4 6
Medicine and health 5 12
Inequities and stratification 6 1
Quantitative approaches 7 14
Work, economy and organizations 8 4
Application and practice 9 16
Theory, knowledge and science 10 9
Family, life course and society 11 8
Other specializations 12 18
Gender and sexuality 13 5
Sociology of culture 14 3
Comparative and historical approaches 15 11
No specialization specified 16 n/a
Social psychology and interaction 17 13
Qualitative approaches 18 15
Population and ecology 19 14


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