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Indicator III-6 Job Status of Humanities Ph.D.’s at Time of Graduation
Back to Section III-C

Updated (7/28/2010).

Although much concern about the fate of humanities Ph.D.’s has focused on their ability to use their degrees to enter the working world, data on this topic are limited. The best source of information on the immediate plans of humanities Ph.D. holders at the time of their graduation is the SED, which has collected data on the educational histories, funding sources, and postgraduation plans of a large sample of new recipients of research doctorates from U.S. educational institutions for every academic year since 1958. The data presented here describe trends between 1988 and 2008.

The SED data show that the percentage of humanities Ph.D.’s leaving the university with a firm job commitment (in academe or another sector) declined over the course of the 1990s. By 2003, the share of graduates with such commitments had increased, but 2008 saw another slight decline, to 56% (Figure III-6). However, the employment rate for new humanities Ph.D.’s was higher than that for new natural sciences and social sciences degree holders and, in most years, for engineering Ph.D.’s as well.

Postdoctoral study is far more common in the sciences and engineering than in the humanities. In 2008, for example, 43% of life sciences Ph.D.’s had firm commitments for postdoctoral study, compared to 9% in the humanities. The latter figure, however, is almost twice as great as it was in 1988, reflecting small but consistent increases beginning in the late 1990s. But even with this increase, when postdoctoral study is considered, a greater percentage of science and engineering Ph.D.’s leave their graduate programs with firm engagements than do their counterparts in the humanities.

Figure III-6, Full Size
Supporting Data Supporting Data

The greater prevalence of postdoctoral study among sciences and engineering Ph.D.’s is also reflected in the fact that humanities Ph.D.’s were much likelier to have firm commitments for academic employment (full- and part-time faculty and administrative jobs) than their counterparts in engineering and the sciences. In 1988, 48% of humanities graduates (the bulk of those humanities graduates reporting employment) reported that they would be taking such jobs. Except in the late 1990s, when the share of academic commitments dipped several percentage points, this level of academic employment held throughout the decades examined here. In contrast, the academic employment rate for Ph.D.’s in the social sciences—the scientific field with the greatest proportion of graduates entering such employment—was in the vicinity of 30% over the course of the examined decades. In 1988, the likelihood that an engineering, life sciences, or physical sciences Ph.D. would immediately take an academic position after graduate school was approximately one-third of that for humanities Ph.D.’s. Twenty years later, the likelihood was less than one-fifth of that for new humanities doctorate holders.

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