how to increase sociology’s paycheck

On Twitter, Elizabeth noted that the typical economics assistant professor makes 50% more than the typical sociologist. Rather than twist our hands and foam at the mouth, I’d like to start a more constructive conversation about how sociology might increase its paycheck.

To start, you have to understand how academic salaries are set. It goes like this: every year, your college gets a big chunk of money and part of that chunk goes to faculty salaries. Roughly speaking, the faculty salary chunk has a few major chunks – one for part timers/adjuncts; grad students; professional school faculty; and all other faculty. Within each segment, people get “around” the same amount. I am not saying that older faculty aren’t paid more. Rather, most older faculty make what younger people make plus a third, at most. At some schools, full profs make only a tiny bit more than associates or assistants. What you don’t see is senior faculty making double or triple what entry level professors make. The only exception are faculty of world class reputation (e.g., Nobel prize winners).

So how does one improve the overall economic standing of your academic discipline? How does one not get paid the same salary that the rest of the university is getting paid? One strategy is to move to a professional schools. For example, economists in business schools usually make more than those in arts and sciences. But that begs the question – why do they get paid more? Why aren’t MD’s paid what arts and sciences biologists get paid?

Answer: provide actual value to outsiders. If you can do this, you will increase the value of your discipline in two ways. First, outsiders will compete for professors in your area. Second, outsiders will pay academics and increase their salaries through grants, donations, and sponsored research. They will provide an independent pool of income in addition to what your college gives you and it won’t be taken by competing groups (e.g., the Spanish Department).

I think sociology has a lot to offer – we have invented a fair number of things that the wider world uses like focus groups and network analysis. Also, sociologists were pioneers in survey analysis. But nobody seems to know that. So here are some suggestions:

  • Change our public image from “critical” to “we know social behavior.” Note: that doesn’t mean we stop being critical, it’s about packaging.
  • Emphasize our advantage: we are the cool jack of all trades social science.
  • For the BA degree, create a track for applied (e.g., ethnography at work or big data).
  • At the PhD level, celebrate and encourage students who go to the private sector. That ethnographer who is now working in tech? Invite them for a talk!
  • At the faculty level, create “pathways” between high level policy and private jobs. For example, in economics, economists who work at the Fed frequently find their ways back to top econ programs.
  • Break out of the arts and sciences. The pool of income is highly constrained. ASU, for example, has had some success in being a stand alone social science school of sociology.

I think sociology is great, but it is not wise to take things for granted. We should innovate where we can and try to create a new niche for ourselves.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 21, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, sociology

7 Responses

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  1. 1. On the other hand, if you can tough it out to become a full prof in sociology, you can get better raises than junior profs. Do you suppose this is a design issue in the field.

    2. It could be worse. You could be an historian…
    Of course, if deans cannot distinguish between sociology and history as a science, the meager differences will disappear.

    3. “For the BA degree, create a track for” pre-law or pre-MBA. Granted, the boat may have sailed for both of these degrees. At several universities, there is an undergraduate program in philosophy, economics, and political science that serves this role, as well as preparation for government careers. Start one that substitutes soc for econ.

    4. Number 3 may also help with “create ‘pathways’ between high level policy and private jobs.”

    5.”Change our public image from ‘critical’ to” analytical and useful. Train all graduate students to do primary data collection — that doesn’t look like story-telling — and to write for policy audiences, instead of other sociologists.



    July 21, 2015 at 12:34 am

  2. On the Big Data side of things, I would argue that Sociology is excellent preparation for Data Science. That is, a lot of the statistical methods taught in advanced Sociology classes have innumerable applications in industry. And the difference between Sociologists and people in the “harder” sciences is that we (arguably) also have a solid training in things like writing, argumentation and analytical thinking.

    The two missing pieces (and what holds many people back from being competitive in industry) are programming and machine learning. Creating tracks (both at the undergraduate and grad levels) that combine sociological sophistication with technical depth would really help Soci produce employable graduates (yes, I believe a decent program should even make it possible to get a decent job with an undergrad Sociology degree).


    Bogdan State

    July 21, 2015 at 2:37 am

  3. (Read a *more* solid training in writing, argumentation or analytical thinking compared to the “harder” sciences. I think of this as a matter of degree — not meaning to imply that people higher up the technical totem pole have no training in these areas whatsoever.)


    Bogdan State

    July 21, 2015 at 2:40 am

  4. There are sociologists working in business schools who get paid substantially more than sociologists working in sociology departments, but if those sociologists tried to come back to their home discipline they’d have to take a pay cut. A HUGE pay cut. Deans operate under the constraints of pay scales, and sociology’s scale happens to be set at a lower rate at all levels than economics.



    July 21, 2015 at 3:55 am

  5. Having been on the job market a couple years ago with an economics degree, the big difference seems very clear to me: essentially any econ PhD from a decent program will have private sector opportunities in the $150k+ range. I know people who didn’t even interview with top 50 departments who got 200k+ first year salary offers in the private sector, with a steep gradient from there. The major tech firms, investment banks, pension plans, litigation consultants, Accenture/PWC-style firms and many others are all hiring many econ PhDs every year. In the public sector, the Feds, the World Bank, the IMF, the ECB, the DoJ, the FTC and others are paying 100-150k first year salaries. Business schools are sweeping up 20% of so of the candidates from top programs, and policy schools, medical schools and ed schools also hire economists.

    On the other side of this strong demand, the supply side is small: in 2008, there were almost 8000 biology PhDs in the US, 3500 psych PhDs granted, 1500 English Lit degrees, and about 900 economics degrees. It is exceedingly rare to find programs outside the very top with more than a handful of students on the job market in any given year.

    That combination means that salaries must be high if people are going to take the job. Even at current salaries, I have friends who have turned down solid academic offers (at places like Rochester, Indiana, UBC, Duke) for the private sector. Many European schools have less compressed wages, hence are only similar to the US for seniors and not for juniors. I have collected data on job market outcomes for a few years, and it is immediately clear that European programs, even very prominent ones, are getting turned down by top junior candidates for US programs and business schools.

    So what should sociology do if they want better job market outcomes and fewer post-doc merry-go-rounds? Reduce the size of PhD programs, especially at less prominent places, and crank up the teaching of technical skills. The belief that economists are paid more solely because of prestige or status or similar reasons is simply not true.

    Liked by 2 people


    July 21, 2015 at 5:39 am

  6. It’s easy to say that sociologists should make themselves more relevant to policy, etc. but that neglects the actual hard work of developing a rigorous empirical science (you can backbite econ all you want but they developed [and when I use this word I mean, etc., derived the asymptotic sampling distributions of] the majority of the quantitative methods sociologists use like FEs, IVs, time series, program evaluation, DiD, etc.). The ASA and ASR have been trying to break thru to the public for decades now and it doesn’t work because they keep publishing terrible, anti-rigorous social science in which quant and qual methods are misused, shoddily documented, and rarely scrutinized. I hate arguments like this that just assume sociologists are entitled to greater policy relevance. We have actual problems with our field that make it a source of badly done research that should in fact be kept as far away from policy as possible. And even if we didn’t, this is actually what economists and policymakers think, i.e., sociologists are not just irrelevant, they are actually chock full of harmful and stupid ideas and should be locked out of the policymaking process altogether, e.g.,

    Liked by 3 people

    get real

    July 21, 2015 at 1:20 pm

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