zones of the sociology job market

Academic job markets are odd. They are “thin,” in the sense that there are relatively few buyers. And they are balkanized in the sense that there all kinds of weird niches. And they are fluctuating, in the sense that trends come and go. Despite all that, sociology, like most disciplines, have consistent “streams of jobs” that merit discussion.

  1. The stratification zone: The study of inequality is at the core of field and every year people get hired. In fact, it is so central to the field that advertising a strat job is almost like admitting that you’re really doing an open search.
  2. The health/crim/aging zone: Sociologists don’t say that health, or criminal justice, or gerontology is at the core, but we can’t say no to the enrollments and the grants. The result is that this zone is almost always healthy.
  3. The urban zone: A small zone, but a consistent one. Most urban sociologists can honestly argue that they do race or inequality, so they tend to do well.
  4. The econ soc/institutions/political soc zone: Usually in the middle in terms of jobs. The econ soc/orgs/institutions side of things do well, but the political side can be tough. On the up side, people in this zone can often move into jobs in b-schools,policy or ed schools.
  5. The demography/family zone: Big grants, big jobs. Most programs have these folks and some invest deeply in this zone. Jobs available.
  6. The Prada Bag zone: Named after Monica Prasad’s description of historical comparative scholars, the Prada Bag Zone exists mainly in top 30 programs and some elite liberal arts colleges because they are luxury items. Good to have, and desirable, but they won’t bump off the health/crim zone in less competitive programs. Prada bags include the historical comparative people, hard core ethnographers, and movements people, among other. Tiny zone, few jobs.
  7. Niche zones: Sociology has a number of very small job market zones, for specialties that have limited appeal and meager funding. The great example of sociology of science. Another is old school political sociology. Life in these zone is nasty, brutish and short.

I intentionally left out education, because people in that zone tend to swept up into other zones (stratification or urban or institutions).  What else did I miss? What else should we talk about in terms of the sociology job market?

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Written by fabiorojas

August 1, 2017 at 4:33 am

9 Responses

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  1. How’s social psych faring nowadays? From what I can tell, it seems like people with this specialty increasingly pair it with more mainstream topics in soc, like stratification or mental health.


    Curious reader

    August 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm

  2. I think the same as always: soc psych is a well regarded branch of sociology, but there isn’t a lot of demand from undergrads and funding is modest. The result is that jobs in that area are not as common as you might think. When I was on the market about 14 years ago (!), I saw the same strategy – combine soc psych with another area.

    Today, the difference is that more soc psych people are experimental, which makes it easier to hit good journals and that helps with jobs.



    August 1, 2017 at 3:53 pm

  3. i wish ppl would have told me this when i got to grad school. i see ppl getting jobs w/ much less prestigious journal hits seemingly because they study “core” stuff and what i do is fairly niche. i keep an eye on the job boards but it’s hard to get excited, or feel like i have a future in the discipline, when most of the available jobs are in the same three-four areas.

    i think programs do a huge disservice to grad students by telling them to follow their passions. that’s wrong. fuck your passions (unless you’re sure you can get an ASR/AJS hit). study something that’ll get you a job. and i’m not interested in hearing how it worked out for such and such who works at nyu or berkeley or whatever. learn stats, study inequalities in health or crime outcomes, preferably with a focus on race or gender. maayyybe labor market inequalities, migration/ethnicity, or urban segregration stuff. otherwise, thanks for playing.

    Liked by 1 person

    frustrated with the job market

    August 1, 2017 at 6:26 pm

  4. I agree. I wish people would instead say, “pay your dues, publish on core issues and build a record so you can get to a point where you have more freedom.” When people point to person X at fancy school Y, they are committing severe selection bias. Graduate programs need to really be more open about what is ok in “the core.”



    August 1, 2017 at 6:31 pm

  5. I understand leaving Social Psych out of the list of zones (although am more surprised that someone from Indiana would do that than some other places), but disagree with much of your earlier comment. Being experimental is not more common in the area today unless you include the growing number of non-social psychologists who are using vignettes or field experiments. It has been a central part of social psych for the last 50+ years. Experimental research is tremendously difficult to publish if you’re not dealing with editors or reviewers who understand the method. Recent success has a lot to do with linking those experiments to culture, but addressing inequality has always been an important contribution of some of the most successful experimental paradigms. While not education or health, the area has a solid tradition of funding, particularly from the NSF, and undergraduates LOVE social psych if an intro class is offered (and will take advanced courses, too). It’s popular because students like classes that they think help them understand themselves and others, business students find it relevant, and there is growing demand and opportunity among pre-med students with the addition of sociology and psychology to the MCAT.

    Liked by 2 people


    August 2, 2017 at 2:24 am

  6. Quantitative Methods, as an “addon zone”. People want it, but they often want another specialty. Sometimes, this other specialty can be virtually anything, though. Sometimes people in this zone compete with people from other zones (e.g., strat or health) who are competent users of quant methods but not terribly interested in them otherwise. Quant methods are a #1 requirement for a number of jobs each year.

    An added wrinkle in this zone is most places with the people to tell which candidates are good aren’t hiring in the area. Additionally, methods can be rather low status (so, Jansport backpacks rather than Prada bags).

    Liked by 1 person


    August 3, 2017 at 12:58 pm

  7. A reminder: the way the zones/markets work in teaching-focused institutions is a bit different. We may need someone to teach health/crim/aging, but we do not necessarily care if your research is centrally focused on this area. If you can show through prior teaching experience that you will be competent to staff our core needs and you can demonstrate in your application materials and interview that you are enthusiastic about teaching in that area and are not just chomping at the bit to develop an esoteric special topics course on your esoteric research area, we are happy with that. Your research can be in a pretty unrelated area, as long as you can answer an interview question about how your research informs your teaching (easy if you will teach methods; if not, something about staying engaged in the discipline or the one tangential connection you focus on in week 12 of course Z). In other words, it’s fine to follow your passions, as long as you also spend some time building strong competencies in desirable areas and understand that you will not likely get hired at Dream School. But, then, you were not probably going to get hired at Dream School anyway, and you might ultimately find you are happier following your passions than you would have been studying something boring at Dream School’s suck-up cousin.

    Liked by 1 person


    August 6, 2017 at 10:24 pm

  8. I have observed many placements following what Mikaila said: pay attention to your teaching credentials as well as your research area. And it is often possible to do what you love while paying some attention to getting yourself certified in higher-demand areas.

    Liked by 1 person


    August 7, 2017 at 6:14 pm

  9. I assume people who specialize in gender would go under strat. But I’m wondering if gender deserves it’s own zone. If I remember correctly, I think I’ve seen ASA job stats showing that gender is the strongest or one of the strongest areas in terms of hiring demand. If there are meaningful hiring demand differences in different areas of strat, it seems important to think of those as distinct zones, no?



    August 13, 2017 at 10:25 am

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