From the Noteworthy column in the April 1995 Perspectives

National Research Council Issues Report on Humanities Doctorates in the United States

AHA Staff, April 1995

The National Research Council (NRC) recently published a new report in its series of biennial longitudinal surveys. Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Humanities Doctorates in the United States: 1991 Profile provides valuable demographic and employment data on those who earned doctoral degrees in humanities from U.S. universities between 1942 and 1990 and who were 75 years of age or younger and residing in the United States in September 1991.

The report estimates that the population of humanities doctorates in the United States in 1991 was 100,300, of which 21.8 percent held degrees in either American history or "other history" (a category defined by the report to include "history and philosophy of science, European history, history of other countries, and unspecified history"). The only field or discipline in the humanities of larger size is English and American languages and literature.

The demographic portion of the report provides data on how the community of historians differs from that in other fields in terms of gender, age, and year of doctorate. While 32.9 percent of humanities doctorates overall are held by women, only 21.7 percent of doctorates in American history and 19.9 percent of those in other history fields are held by women. Only in philosophy is there a lower percentage of doctorates held by women. Similarly, 91.7 percent of humanities doctorates are white, but 94.1 percent of specialists in American history and 93.3 percent of those in other history fields are white.

History doctorates are more likely to be not only white and male but also older than the average humanities doctorate. Over 80 percent of American history specialists are between 40 and 59 years of age, compared to about 66 percent of humanities doctorates overall. While the percentage of doctorates in other history in this age range is less (61.2 percent), a surprising 29.9 percent fall in the 60–75 age group—only in speech and theater is there a higher percentage in that oldest age cohort. Interestingly, the percentage of doctorates in American history in the 60–75 age group is at the other end of the spectrum—only 7.4 percent compared to 20.7 percent of humanities doctorates overall. As one might expect, data on the year of doctorate reveals that 89 percent of American history specialists earned their degrees between 1970 and 1989, including just over 55 percent in the decade of 1970–79 alone. No other field reveals a similar level of concentration. On the other hand, the largest concentration of doctorates in other history fields is between 1960 and 1979, reflecting the greater portion of doctoral degrees in those fields held by individuals in the 60–75 age range.

The NRC report also provides encouraging data on employment. Focusing on the labor force (excluding retirees and those not seeking employment), the study reports that 93.6 percent of doctorates in American history are employed full time—the highest proportion found in any humanities field. For doctorate recipients in other history fields, the percentage employed full time is only 88.7, the same as that for all humanities fields. The high level of full-time employment for American history doctorates means that the percentage in part-time employment is, at 5 percent, the lowest in the humanities. The level of part-time employment in other history fields is 9.1 percent, compared to 9.6 percent overall. The study also reveals gender differences—male doctorates in history are more likely to be employed full time (95.6 percent in American history and 90.3 percent in other history) than are female recipients (86.3 percent in American history and 82 percent in other history), and a larger percentage of female doctorates are employed part time (9.4 percent and 16.8 percent respectively) compared to male doctorates (3.8 percent and 7.3 percent respectively). Taking all the measures together, the employment status of doctorates in American history, regardless of gender, is better than that of doctorates in all humanities fields, but the status of their colleagues in other history fields is less favorable, with a slightly larger than average concentration in part-time employment. But note that the largest percentage of unemployed doctorates seeking employment is among female doctorates in American history, the same field that provides male doctorates with the highest level of full-time employment reported in the survey.

Not only are historians overall more likely to be employed full time, but they also on the average make more than their counterparts in other fields. The median annual salary for individuals specializing in American history is $51,100; for those in other history fields the median is $51,600; for all fields the median is $48,200. The only category reporting a higher median salary is speech and theater. Gender differences continue, with women in the humanities earning about 87.3 percent of that reported for their male colleagues. While that ratio of salaries holds true for doctorates in other history fields, female doctorates in American history earned 97.5 percent of that reported for men. According to the NRC, the highest median salaries for women humanists are in the two categories of history.

The report also provides data on where humanities doctorates are employed. The two groups of historians are distinctive because of the comparatively high level of employment in government and nonprofit organizations. In no other field does as large a percentage work in government, and only in art history does a higher percentage work in the nonprofit sector. The contrast between doctorates in American history and those in other humanities fields is especially striking—20.2 percent of the former are employed in government or nonprofit organizations compared to less than half that percentage in the fields of philosophy and languages and literature.

Finally, the report provides data on the academically employed in each field category. According to the NRC, the highest percentages of faculty at the level of full professor and with tenure are in the "other" fields of history, and levels for American history, while slightly lower, are still above that for the humanities overall.

Previous reports in Perspectives drawing on the NRC biennial surveys compared data from the most recent report with that provided in earlier reports. A variety of changes made in the 1991 survey, however, mean that the data reported above are not comparable to that gathered between 1977 and 1989. The 1991 data are, however, according to the NRC, of better quality and utility. The NRC provides some time-series tables, but they do not include discipline-specific data. Representatives of the AHA and the Organization of American Historians will meet in late March with National Endowment for the Humanities and NRC staff to discuss this further.

For a copy of the complete report, write Survey of Humanities Doctorates, National Research Council, OSERP, Rm. TJ 2006, 2101 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20418.