State of the Humanities 2022: From Graduate Education to the Workforce


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Humanities Indicators

Given the recent decline in students earning bachelor’s degrees in the humanities, a great deal of concern is focused on undergraduate education. But many of the questions received by the Humanities Indicators staff have to do with outcomes for those who earn a graduate degree in the field. This report explores several key topics related to graduate education, including degree trends, the demographics of degree recipients, the extent to which programs engage students in career preparation activities, and graduates’ career outcomes. The report relies heavily on the high-quality data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, and also the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, several of whose surveys yield valuable information about graduate degree holders in the humanities.

The findings include a few surprises: 1) while most of the attention in the disciplines seems to focus on PhDs, the field conferred almost five times as many master’s as doctoral degrees in recent years; 2) even so, the number of master’s degrees conferred annually in the humanities has been in decline over the past several years and their share of all master’s and professional degrees reached a historic low in 2020; 3) the number of humanities PhDs awarded each year was at a near-record high in 2020, but as a share of all doctoral degrees, they fell to a historic low; 4) while the academic job market for humanities PhDs has been depressed since 2008, there is no evidence that this is due to the substitution of adjunct for tenure-track positions; and 5) regardless of where they end up—either in academia or out—the large majority of graduate degree recipients in the humanities are satisfied with their jobs, despite earnings that are considerably lower than those of their counterparts from other fields.

This report reflects the ongoing mission of the Humanities Indicators, a nationally recognized source of nonpartisan information about the field. The Indicators website covers 121 topics and includes more than 340 graphs detailing the state of the humanities in schools, higher education, and the workforce; levels of support for research and other key activities; and the role of the humanities in the day-to-day life of the nation. The project draws on data sources that meet the highest standards of social scientific rigor, relying heavily on the products of the U.S. federal statistical system.

For those wishing to create custom visualizations or perform analyses beyond those described in the following pages, the values underlying the graphs—as well as a wide variety of related data points, including information about non-humanities fields—can be downloaded from here.