A Note on Interpreting the InformationBack to table of contents
For the purposes of this report, terminal master’s degree holders are graduates for whom a master’s is their highest degree. Doctoral degrees include only those classified as research doctorates and exclude medical doctorates. And academic employment encompasses only jobs in postsecondary education (with employment in K–12 education treated either as its own category or as work in the “government” sector).
Finally, this report draws on several national surveys, each of which classifies academic disciplines in a slightly different way. As a result, the actual composition of broad field categories shown in the graphs varies depending on the survey source. Visit www.amacad.org/publication/humanities-graduate-education-workforce for information about the disciplines included in each category.
The fields of study compared in this publication differ with respect to their graduates’ demographics and other characteristics. When these characteristics are correlated with an outcome of interest, whether earnings or job satisfaction, they produce “compositional effects” on group outcomes. For example, degree recipients in the humanities are substantially more likely than degree recipients in engineering to be women. Thus, to the extent there is a gender gap in earnings, the median earnings of humanities graduates will be more affected by that gap than the median for engineering graduates.
This publication reports median earnings rather than the more familiar mean (“average”) because of the highly skewed nature of the U.S. earnings distribution; that is, a small share of the U.S. population earns considerably more than the vast majority of Americans. The mean is sensitive to such extreme values and thus can present a distorted picture of the midpoint (or center) of the distribution. By definition, 50 percent of graduates in the field earn less than the median, while 50 percent earn more. It does not matter how much less or how much more, making the median indifferent to extreme values and thus a better measure of “typical” earnings.
All earnings estimates have been rounded to the nearest $1,000.