Recipients of a doctoral degree in the humanities have the lowest median earnings of any major field of study, due in part to the comparatively large share employed as postsecondary faculty, an occupation in which average humanities salaries are relatively low.1  The following analysis provides a snapshot of the differences in earnings among the fields.


  • 1As of the 2014–2015 academic year (information for more recent years is not available), faculty members in history, philosophy, and religious studies, as well as English and languages/literatures other than English, were all in the bottom half of the distribution of median salaries at each rank. For instance, assistant professors in all disciplines combined had a median salary of $67,881, while the median salary for faculty in the larger humanities disciplines was less than $60,000. At the full professor level, the median salary was $100,087 for faculty in all disciplines combined, compared to less than $93,000 for faculty members in the humanities disciplines. (“Median Salaries of Tenured and Tenure-Track Professors at 4-Year Colleges, 2014–15,” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 16, 2015,, accessed 9/21/2016.)

III-24a: Median Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with a Doctoral Degree, by Field of Degree, 2019*

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* Full-time workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks during the previous 12 months. Earnings estimates have been rounded to the nearest $1,000. The analysis excludes holders of the D.D.S., D.V.M., M.D., and other nonresearch degrees. A doctorate holder’s baccalaureate and/or master’s degree may be in a different field.

Source: National Science Foundation, 2019 National Survey of College Graduates. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (

Since the humanities were dropped from the biennial Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR) in 1995, the National Science Foundation’s National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) is the only source of nationally representative data on the occupations and earnings of humanities Ph.D.’s. Conducted every two years, the NSCG gathers detailed education, occupation, and earnings information from a sample of individuals drawn from the larger pool of all those identified via the American Community Survey (ACS) as holders of a baccalaureate degree.

Given the size of the NSCG sample, reliable estimates are available only for broad academic fields. For the NSCG disciplinary categories included in each of the field-of-degree categories employed by the Humanities Indicators, see the provided 
crosswalk. This earnings indicator is based on NSCG data, but similar items included in the Humanities Indicators rely on data from the ACS.

Due to marked differences in how NSCG and the ACS classify academic fields, the contents of the field-of-degree categories used for this indicator are not identical to those used for the ACS-based Indicators
III-07a, 07b, and 07c. (For more information on the contents of the categories used for the ACS analysis, see the pertinent crosswalk.)

Another key difference between these indicators and the ACS-based earnings indicators is that the Ph.D. holders considered here are those whose doctoral degree was in the humanities (irrespective of the field of their undergraduate and any master’s degree). The ACS does not collect data about the field of advanced degrees. The ACS-based indicators thus describe the earnings of undergraduate humanities majors who went on to pursue an advanced degree, regardless of the field of that degree. 

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