sociology faculty in leading departments: analysis by daniel schneider

Daniel Schneider of the Princeton sociology department was nice enough to share his research on the sociology labor market. He has graciously given me permission to reprint his email here:

As the sociology job market gets going each year, there’s always a fair amount of anecdotal evidence swirling around about which departments’ students fair best.  Posters to this blog have discussed how this sort of “graduate student perspective” on sociology program rankings isn’t necessarily reflected in the US News or NRC rankings.  Some insight into how the departments stack up in terms of graduate student placement is offered in Burris’ (2004) ASR article.  But, the data he uses is now 15 years old.

Whatever speculation there is over the relative success of different departments is usually dwarfed by the amount of discussion there is over the quality of the job market in a given year.  A bad job market may make it difficult to get a job in that year, but it may also have lasting effects throughout one’s career.  Oyer (2006) has put together some evidence of how initial job market conditions at the time of PhD affect later career outcomes, but only for economics.

To try to get some current data on which department’s graduates fare best on the sociology job market and how when one goes on the market may shape career outcomes, I used the ASA’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Sociology (2009) to record where and when each faculty member listed by each department received his or her PhD.  I had some help putting together the data, but I still couldn’t face entering the information for all sociology doctoral programs, so I limited it to faculty at the top 25 programs as ranked in 2009 by US News (there are actually 26 programs because of ties).    This approach basically boils down to taking a snapshot of sociology faculty in these 26 departments as of 2009 and recording where and when they received their PhDs.

1.  Where Do Faculty in Top Sociology Departments Come From?


As of 2009, there were 985 regular and affiliated sociology faculty members in the 26 departments I examined.  Of these, about 80% received their PhDs from another one of the same 26 departments, 55% from one of ten departments, and 9% from Chicago alone.  Just 15% received their degree from a university outside of these 26 departments and 5% from a foreign university.

From the graduate student perspective, perhaps a more relevant question to ask is where younger faculty received their degrees.  That might provide a better measure of how departments are currently doing in terms of placement.  Limiting the analysis to the 216 faculty members at these 26 departments who received their PhDs since 2000 (recent faculty) generates a somewhat different ranking than when we look at where all faculty members currently at the leading 26 departments received their degrees.  For instance, the table below reports that Wisconsin leads the way in terms of placement of recent faculty at top departments, but ranks only 4th in terms of placement when all current faculty members are considered.  Harvard is second by either measure while Princeton is 7th for all faculty members but 3rd in terms of recent placements.

2.  When Did Faculty in Top Departments Receive Their PhDs?


Does going on the job market in a “bad year” just make it hard to get your first job, or does that difficulty at the start have lasting consequences?  I calculated the number of faculty members at top 26 departments as of 2009 who received their PhDs in a given year and then divided that number by the total number of PhDs awarded in sociology in that year (using data available from the ASA).  For instance, 600 individuals received PhDs in Sociology in 1980.  As of 2009, 34 of them were employed in top 26 departments, a 5.7% share.  That “placement ratio” should be relatively high for cohorts that are well into their careers.  These folks are well established in the field (unlike the most recent cohorts), but relatively few have died or retired (unlike the oldest cohorts). So, we’d expect the placement ratio, when plotted against year of degree on the x-axis, to be upward sloping, except perhaps for the most recent graduates.   But, if initial job market conditions affected faculty positions years later, we’d expect deviations from that line for cohorts that looked for their first academic positions in tough job markets.  The figure below shows some evidence of that, plotting the three-year moving average of the placement ratio and imposing grey shading for the periods when the NBER recorded a recession.  There are a number of discontinuities in the line, dips that roughly align with past recessions.  It appears that facing poor initial job market conditions can have lasting effects on a cohort’s career trajectories.

Written by fabiorojas

October 30, 2009 at 12:34 am

9 Responses

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  1. Should be “fare best” not “fair best” in the first sentence, you Ivy League scalawag.



    October 30, 2009 at 2:25 am

  2. interesting… now I know why a friend of mine chose UCLA over stanfrd !



    October 30, 2009 at 4:41 am

  3. As it happens, we at MIT are in the midst of an external review of our family of phd programs. One note from that experience is to suggest that “from a graduate student perspective,” you want numbers on inputs, not just outputs, as well as what happens in production. That is, you want to condition how many went from x to y on how many from x managed to get out, how many arrived at x 4,5,6,… years earlier, etc (and what in heck happened to those who leaked out of the pipeline). It’s also good to know what happened 5,10 yrs after arrival at y. These kinds of tables are fun stuff but are highly misleading if we take them as useful data for people thinking about careers in sociology (and the same is true in other fields).



    October 30, 2009 at 10:17 am

  4. Thanks for doing this – a very interesting analysis.

    The recent vs. all comparison is very interesting, but a bit hard to interpret. It could reflect a trend–i.e., that recently Princeton’s been placing better and Berkeley worse–or, alternatively, that students leaving some programs (e.g., Berkeley) take longer to land at top departments than do students leaving others (Princeton).



    October 30, 2009 at 10:25 am

  5. (and what in heck happened to those who leaked out of the pipeline)

    IME, when it comes to their own programs people are quite bad at coming up with explanations for attrition that don’t involve strings of amazing coincidences, a preponderance of special cases or a proliferation of unusual contingencies.



    October 30, 2009 at 1:37 pm

  6. Thanks for these comments and thanks Fabio for posting this here.

    Two quick responses:

    First, I agree that the “real” graduate student perspective would ideally include an analysis of program outcomes focusing on time to degree and program completion rates. Unfortunately, that information is hard to come by. I’ve put together an analysis like the one Ezra describes for Princeton, but it wasn’t all that straightforward. I started with lists of incoming cohorts, then Googled people, talked to faculty and students, looked up dissertations, etc… to get the outcomes data.

    Second, Andrew wrote that differences between departments’ “all” and “recent” rankings “could reflect a trend–i.e., that recently Princeton’s been placing better and Berkeley worse–or, alternatively, that students leaving some programs (e.g., Berkeley) take longer to land at top departments than do students leaving others (Princeton).” I’m worried about that too. It could also be that students leaving some programs initially land at top departments and then fall out at higher rates.



    October 30, 2009 at 1:49 pm

  7. Daniel: Shocking isn’t it that it’s hard to come by those numbers? People don’t collect data they have no incentive to collect. And the sad fact about phd programs generally (nothing unusual about Princeton) is that there is effectively no accountability. “Top” departments can systematically damage young people’s careers for many years, without it having any effect on the departments’ status. We rightly snicker about institutions in the “real world” that only talk about their successes (or, pace Kieran, excuse their failures as exceptions that prove the rule). Turns out we live in a glass house.



    October 30, 2009 at 2:03 pm

  8. the other thing is that foreign universities aren’t in the ranking, though they may also be good departments hiring from top US schools



    November 2, 2009 at 3:31 am

  9. Here is an analysis for economists:

    Oyer, Paul (2006b). “Inital Labor Market Conditions and Long-Term Outcomes for
    Economists.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(3) (Summer): pp. 143-160.


    Michael Bishop

    November 2, 2009 at 8:20 pm

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