Language Jobs Down

Annual study by MLA finds declines in jobs in English and foreign languages.

December 1, 2014

The 2013-14 academic year saw a decline in faculty openings in English and foreign languages, according to an analysis released by the Modern Language Association. The drop was 8.4 percent for English and 6.8 percent for foreign languages.

This is the second year in a row of a decline, and the fifth year in which positions in the MLA Job Information List have been around 1,000 each for English and foreign languages. Those figures are about 40 percent below the totals in the 2007-8 edition, the last before the economic downturn started in 2008. The sustained period of relatively few jobs matches "the trough of the mid-1990s in both depth and duration," the MLA analysis says.

The duration of the downturn is key to understanding just how difficult the job market can be today. Since class after class of new Ph.D.s has produced many who are either unemployed or under-employed (and many of whom apply again for jobs the next year), competition for jobs is intense.

The MLA study, like those of many other disciplines, is based on the openings listed with the association. While many openings are not listed with the association, the ups and downs of the MLA listings are considered a good reflection of the discipline as a whole. The study is being released as new Ph.D.s and A.B.D.s in English and foreign languages anxiously await word on whether they will have job interviews at the MLA annual meeting early next year.

MLA Job Information List Totals -- Pre-Recession Until 2013-14

Year English Foreign Languages
2007-8 1,680 1,826
2008-9 1,380 1,227
2009-10 1,100 1,022
2010-11 1,190 1,095
2011-12 1,235 1,128
2012-13 1,142 1,102
2013-14 1,046 1,027

The MLA study tracks not only the total numbers of listings, but also the share that are tenure-track and the trends there are unlikely to surprise (or please) job-seekers. In the five years from 2004-5 through 2008-9, listings that were for tenure-track positions made up 75-80 percent of the English list and 60-65 percent of the foreign language list. In the five years since the economic downturn started, the percentages have fallen by about 10 percentage points in each category, to 65-70 percent of English listings and 50-55 percent of foreign language listings. So not only are there fewer jobs, but fewer of those that still exist are on the tenure track.

The news from the MLA follows similar reports noting declines of job openings in other humanities fields, such as history and religion.


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