Considering graduate school in the arts or social sciences?

Here are some job statistics you’ll want to consider


King Henry VIII from Wikimedia Commons

After a steep recession-era decline in hiring of academics in the arts and social sciences, potential PhDs have reasons for optimism—or despair—depending on how you look at it.

The good news is that job listings on the American Historical Association’s website, considered a market barometer for North America, increased from 569 in the 2009-10 academic year to 627 in 2010-11. That’s up 10.2 per cent year-on-year.

The bad news? That figure is still 40 per cent lower than the 1,064 jobs posted in 2007-08, before the recession led to budgetary restraint.

The modest rebound is a common theme across the arts and social sciences.

Interestingly, some sub-disciplines are faring better than others. The AHA’s recent study shows that post-recession, those studying African history had the biggest bump in hiring this year—a 44 per cent growth in positions. Those studying Asian, World or Latin American history competed for 20 per cent more openings. Meanwhile, North American and European history listings barely budged.

While there are more jobs than last year, competition in history departments is higher than ever. The AHA report notes that there are a record number of history PhDs competing for jobs and there was 3.1 per cent higher enrollment overall last year.

That’s pushed the average number of applicants per job is to astounding levels. African history openings may have grown the most, but good luck getting one: the number of applicants per job nearly doubled from 37 to 63. In Latin American history, applicants per job grew from 59 to 85.

Curiously, the AHA reminds historians that “economics, modern languages, and sociology have all reported more substantial rebounds in the number of job advertisements…”

But there isn’t a reason to be jealous. The Modern Languages Association reported recently that their job listings were still 33 per cent off 2007-08. They forecast just five per cent growth in 2012.

And while the Sociology job market made up most of the 35 per cent recessionary decline in hiring, much of the growth was in Criminology, which doesn’t interest most of today’s sociology graduates.

So in a sense, 2012 is both the best of times and the worst of times to try and break into academia.

Our advice? Don’t pursue a PhD unless you’re willing to accept the possibility of never finding a job.


Considering graduate school in the arts or social sciences?

  1. These numbers are cause for despair, not optimism. Graduate school requires an enormous investment of time, and when after years of work, you are faced with a dismal job market like this one, all of that time may prove to have been nothing more than a costly distraction.

    Blogs like “100 reasons NOT to go to grad school” are springing up all over the Internet, offering a keen sense of the miserable situation facing grad students:

  2. “Don’t pursue a PhD unless you’re willing to accept the possibility of never finding a job” … as an academic. A Ph.D. in these fields is not exclusively training to join the professoriate (though recent years have seen a real increase in professionalization, largely in response to the bad academic job market).

  3. Pingback: News from the social sciences and humanities « Fedcan Blog

  4. The Modern Language Association (the biggest Humanities association) will tell you that the chances of getting a tenure-track job is about 20%. And what about those poor souls doing PhDs at lousy universities? Tough times.

  5. While the current state of the job market may be poor, one should remember that most students in these disciplines take at least five years to finish their degree (a modest estimate; anyone who has been in graduate school in these disciplines knows that the standard four years is simply not achieved by most). What will the job market look like then?