State of the Humanities 2021: Workforce & Beyond

A Note on Interpreting the Information

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Humanities Indicators

Field Comparisons

This report draws on three major national surveys—the American Community Survey, the National Survey of College Graduates, and the Gallup Alumni Survey. Unfortunately, each classifies academic fields and disciplines in a different way, and thus the broad field categories shown in the following graphs vary somewhat depending on the survey source. For information about the disciplines included in each category, as well as the number of graduates in each field and the share of all college graduates they represent, consult the report's supplemental tables.

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, bachelor’s 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 (as reported here), the median earnings of humanities graduates will be more affected by that gap than the median for engineering graduates. For breakdowns of earnings by age and gender, see the Indicators website.


This publication reports median earnings rather than the more familiar mean (“average”). This is necessary because of the highly skewed nature of the U.S. earnings distribution; that is, by the small share of the U.S. population who earn 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 bulk of the distribution. The median is far less sensitive to extreme values and is thus a better measure of “typical” earnings. Fifty percent of graduates in the field earn less than the median, while 50 percent earn more.

All earnings estimates have been rounded to the nearest $1,000.