Where Ph.D.s Work and What They Earn

New analysis points to workplace gaps in nonacademic employment and salaries of those who earn doctorates in humanities vs. those in other fields. Gender gaps apparent as well.

October 31, 2016
Faculty members at Emory University
(Uri Rosenheck)

For years, many humanities leaders have urged doctoral students in their fields to consider jobs outside academe -- and have encouraged graduate departments to prepare their Ph.D. students for careers in fields other than higher education.

An analysis released today by the Humanities Indicators Project shows how different job patterns are for those with humanities Ph.D.s (where academic work remains the norm) compared to other fields, which except for the arts send the vast majority of Ph.D.s to jobs outside higher education. Not surprisingly given some of the fields that employ nonhumanities Ph.D.s, people with humanities Ph.D.s earn less than Ph.D. recipients in other fields. The new analysis also shows substantial gender gaps in the pay of Ph.D.s across disciplines.

The project conducted its analysis by using data from the National Science Foundation's National Survey of College Graduates.

The Humanities Indicators Project, part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, found that in 2013, 60 percent of employed humanities Ph.D.s were teaching at the postsecondary level. Across all fields, only 30 percent of employed Ph.D.s work in postsecondary education. The only category of disciplines even close to the humanities in postsecondary higher education employment is the relatively small category of the arts.

Among doctoral degree recipients in engineering and the life, physical and medical science fields, 18 to 28 percent have postsecondary jobs, while the behavioral and social sciences are in between the humanities and the other sciences.

Employment of Ph.D.s, by Broad Disciplinary Categories, 2103

Among employed humanities Ph.D.s, the analysis found some gender differences. Men were more likely than women to be employed in nonteaching positions in higher ed education (typically administration). Women were more commonly found in management positions (outside higher education) and in precollegiate education jobs than were their male counterparts.

Occupations of Humanities Ph.D.s, by Gender, 2103

When it comes to pay, the gap between Ph.D.s in the humanities and every other field was significant. (The total number of arts Ph.D.s was too small to analyze and so was excluded.)

Humanities Ph.D.s who were working in 2013 reported median earnings of $75,000. The median across fields was $99,000, with engineering doctorates reporting the highest median, at $124,000.

Despite that wage gap, the analysis found encouraging news for those at the top of the humanities Ph.D. salary range. The top 25 percent of humanities Ph.D.s earned more than did half of Ph.D. recipients in every other field. This is explained in part by a larger gap in the humanities than in other fields between high earners and those at the median.

Median Annual Earnings of Ph.D.s, by Field and Gender

The gender gap in salaries is more pronounced in the humanities than in most other groupings of employed Ph.D.s.

The Humanities Indicators Project also looked at employment of those whose highest degree is a master's. Here, too, the humanities differ from other fields in that a significant number are employed in postsecondary teaching -- a far larger share than is true for any other field.

Occupations of Holders of Terminal Master's Degrees

Robert B. Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, said he suspected that the numbers are influenced in part by the sharp decline in new humanities jobs in the years since the economic downturn of 2008. But since the study examines all employed Ph.D.s, the situation for humanities Ph.D.s could get even worse if new doctorates continue to focus on academic jobs.

"The comparison to the other fields suggests that the problem is not with oversupply, but rather with the training culture and perceived career pathways for humanities Ph.D.s," he said. "Unless and until doctoral training in the humanities prepares students for a broad range of careers, graduates will be subject to the boom-and-bust cycles of the academic job market."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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