Robert Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy, oversees the Humanities Indicators project. He was interviewed by Times Higher Education for his perspective on PhD trends in the English-speaking world:
Robert Townsend ... said a big part of [the rising proportion of science doctorates] “is just a growing demand for science PhDs outside of academia”.
Humanities and social science doctorates, on the other hand, are still much more closely linked to academic jobs, he said, despite attempts to improve the prospects for such PhD graduates outside higher education.
“Statistically, [humanities and social science PhD graduates] do well when they get jobs outside of academia but the route is still not as clear or as well lit as it is for a lot of science and engineering PhDs,” he said.
The result is that the availability of jobs in academia has been seen to affect the number of PhDs in the humanities and social sciences, although there is a considerable lag because of the time it takes to earn a doctorate.
This cyclical downturn is beginning to bite again now in the US as a tightening in the academic job market a few years ago starts to feed through into PhD numbers, Dr. Townsend said.