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22% of Tenure-Track Professors Have a Parent With a Ph.D.

August 31, 2022

Current tenure-track faculty members are up to 25 more times likely to have a parent with a Ph.D. than the general population, according to a new study in Nature: Human Behavior. This rate nearly doubles at highly selective institutions and has remained stable for 50 years. The study involved combining national-level data on education, income and university rankings with a 2017–2020 survey of 7,204 U.S.-based tenure-track faculty members across eight disciplines in the natural sciences, social sciences, business and the humanities.

“Our results suggest that the professoriate is, and has remained, accessible disproportionately to the socioeconomically privileged, which is likely to deeply shape their scholarship and their reproduction,” lead author Allison C. Morgan, a recent computer science Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder and current Twitter data scientist, wrote with her colleagues. According to the study, 22 percent of tenure-track professors in the eight fields studied report that at least one of their parents holds a Ph.D., and 4 percent report both parents have Ph.D.s. Some 52 percent report having at least one parent with a master’s degree or Ph.D. In the U.S., on average, fewer than 1 percent of similarly aged adults hold a Ph.D., and just 7 percent hold a graduate degree of any kind.

Other studies have found similar results. Research published earlier this year suggests that economics Ph.D.s, in particular, are increasingly likely to have at least one parent with a graduate degree. (Morgan’s study previously received attention as a preprint.)

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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