sucks to be a historian

The blog of the American Historical Association has an article about the atrocious state of the job market. Until about 2007, there was a loose correlation between history jobs and history PhDs. Then, a massive drop in history jobs but an increase in history PhD production. Here’s the picture:


Terrible.  In some areas, jobs ads are in the single digits. Intellectual history, for example, has two job openings!! The bottom line is that PhD production must be cut back to align with the market. And unlike other fields like economics, and even sociology to some extent, there is very little demand for PhD historians outside universities. Until cut backs happen, history will continue to have one of the worst job markets in the academy.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 22, 2017 at 2:06 am

5 Responses

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  1. Another bottom line is that faculty and the public should be advocating for students to be taught by full-time tenure line professors. This is what students deserve and what serves them best. The adjunctification of higher education has depressed job markets almost across the board.



    November 22, 2017 at 6:37 pm

  2. It is irresponsible for a field to train more PhDs than the job market can support. The number of history PhDs has gone from 1.7% of US doctorates in the 1980s to between 2.1 and 2.6% more recently. Economics has actually gone *down* from 2.6 to between 2.3 and 2.4, at a time when employment is booming (there are something like 3 job openings, including a very robust private sector, for every US graduate this year). Sociology has gone down from 1.5 to between 1.3 and 1.4. This is all via the SED. What on Earth could justify doubling PhD intake between 1985 and 2005, then increasing it *another* 20% after the financial crisis, given the already weak demand?

    The growth in PhD grants has slightly outpaced population growth, and is concentrated generally in sciences and engineering with heavy foreign intake and robust global private sector demand.

    Focusing on adjunctification gets things backward. Fields that are able to regulate intake in line with the job prospects of their graduates do fine. Fields that do not, either because they are abusing graduate student labor in labs, or because they feel it is their “right” to have large graduate programs regardless of student outcomes, are harming their students. Fields that (again, economics is an outlier) hide their student placement from incoming Phd applicants are harming their students. History needs to look in the mirror, and programs need to cut intake if their students continue to be unable to find employment.



    November 22, 2017 at 8:53 pm

  3. The graph tells a pretty clear story. It takes about 8 years to earn a PhD in history. Jobs were rising between 1992 and 2008. At the time people started their programs (and were accepted into them by their professors), jobs had been rising. Then the bottom fell out in 2009. The continued rise in PhD production after the bottom falls out is a lag effect, a consequence of admissions that were made before the steep decline. The graph does not show PhD intake, it shows PhD output. Another factor to consider is that the baby boom generation of professors is approaching retirement age in an era with no mandatory retirement and with a shaky economy that may lead many older professors to hold onto their jobs as long as possible. This is not an era in which new positions are being created and, yes, adjunctification is happening, but job openings are a most directly a product of retirements and the non-smooth age distribution of the professorate is a major factor in the creation of job openings. Which is not to say that there isn’t an overproduction of PhDs relative to available jobs, but that the story you read off the graph is not quite right.

    Liked by 1 person


    November 23, 2017 at 1:40 pm

  4. PS if a high-enough percentage of the professors are ages 60+, this might be a good time to embark on a PhD program, as there may well be job openings 8+ years from now, by the time you are done. The problem is that the length of the training period makes it difficult to use current market conditions as a guide to job opportunities that far in the future. A

    Another factor is the counter-cyclical nature of higher education. People seek entry into graduate programs when the economy is bad and employment opportunities are weak. “May as well get another degree” seems like a better option when you are not going to get a good job anyway.



    November 23, 2017 at 1:43 pm

  5. Do we have clear evidence that sociology is not on this trajectory, or is the ASA and sociology’s elite basically akin to the NFL



    November 28, 2017 at 3:47 am

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