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Part III. The Humanities Workforce

Section B. Career Paths of Humanities College Graduates

NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators, http://HumanitiesIndicators.org".
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Indicator III-3 Occupations of College Graduates Who Majored in Humanities Disciplines
Indicator III-4 Earnings and Job Satisfaction of Humanities Majors
Indicator III-5 Undergraduate Humanities Majors and the Professions

For policymakers and educators in the humanities, some of the most important questions concern the career paths of humanities students once they leave the university. What kinds of work do they wind up doing? How much to they earn? In 2009, as part of the American Community Survey (ACS), the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting data on the fields in which Americans earn undergraduate degrees. These data reveal the share of humanities majors engaged in different types of occupations and the amount those with humanities training earn at their jobs compared to workers with science degrees and more professionally -oriented degrees, such as those in business and education.

How directly are humanities majors applying the skills they acquired in their undergraduate programs? How satisfied are they in their positions? These questions cannot be fully addressed with existing data, but the findings of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B), a longitudinal study of graduating college seniors, give some answers for one cohort of young Americans who graduated from college in the early-1990s.

In addition to providing information on the career paths of humanities college graduates, this section focuses on the relationship between humanistic education and work in fields such as business, medicine, and law. Analyses of employment data, as well as data on graduate school admission tests, permit a rudimentary assessment of the extent to which humanities training prepares college graduates for a diverse range of occupations.

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Indicator III-3 Occupations of College Graduates Who Majored in Humanities Disciplines
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Updated (11/23/2011) with data from the 2009 American Community Survey.

Data pertaining to the occupations of college graduates who majored in the humanities and other fields are now available from the ACS, which has been administered on an annual basis by the U.S. Census Bureau since 2005. The ACS replaced the “long form” version of the decennial census and collects information—used to allocate more than $400 billion in state and federal funding—about Americans’ personal characteristics, family composition, employment, income, and housing.

This indicator uses ACS data to describe the occupational distribution of two distinct groups. The first comprises holders of terminal bachelor’s degrees in the humanities. The second group is the subset of employed1 humanities majors who, as of 2009, held advanced degrees in the humanities or other fields (information on the field of advanced degrees is not collected as a part of the ACS). As Supplemental Table III-3 indicates, employment rates were similar for the two groups, with approximately 84% of humanities terminal bachelor’s holders (TBHs) and 86% of advanced degree holders (ADHs) having worked at some point in the five years before they responded to the ACS.2 The HI has chosen to focus its analysis not merely on the currently employed but on those college graduates who were employed at any time in the previous five years, because the objective of this indicator is to shed as much light as possible on what humanities majors go on to do in the way of paid employment and how this compares to the occupational outcomes of those who majored in other fields. To consider only the currently employed would be to lose information regarding, for example, the employment experiences of the recently retired or those who have temporarily exited the paid labor force to care for children or an elderly family member or to go back to school.

This indicator also compares the occupational distribution of humanities majors with those who earned bachelor’s degrees in other fields. The fields differ with respect to the employment rates of their majors. Supplemental Table III-3 supplies information that facilitates comparison of the different fields along this dimension.

In 2009, slightly more than half of humanities TBHs, 56%, worked in management, professional, and related occupations (Figure III-3a).3 These workers included the 15% of humanities TBHs who were in education-related occupations, approximately two-thirds of them in precollegiate teaching. Another 12% worked as managers of various kinds. The two next most prevalent types of occupations in the management and professional category were business and financial operations and arts, design, entertainment, and media, with approximately 7% of humanities TBHs holding jobs in each of these two broad occupational categories.

Figure III-3a, Full Size
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Looking beyond managerial/professional jobs, approximately 15% of terminal bachelor’s holders in the humanities worked in office and administrative support occupations. A similar proportion, 14%, worked in sales, while 9% held service jobs.

Figure III-3b compares humanities TBHs with workers who earned their terminal bachelor’s degrees in other fields. Although humanities majors were less likely than those in most other fields to hold professional, managerial, or related occupations, humanities majors were the likeliest, with the exception of those who majored in education, to work in the educational profession. Humanities TBHs were also more likely to work in office and administrative support positions than were TBHs in any other field. Additionally, compared to TBHs in other fields, humanities majors were more evenly distributed across major occupational categories, a characteristic they shared with behavioral and social science TBHs.

Figure III-3b, Full Size
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In 2009, approximately 44% of people with humanities bachelor’s degrees who had worked in the previous five years possessed an advanced degree (Figure III-3c). The humanities majors’ percentage was most similar to that of workers with undergraduate training in education and the behavioral and social sciences. Workers who had majored in the life or physical sciences had advanced degree completion rates of 57% and 54% and were the most likely to have pursued such additional academic training. Workers with majors in engineering, health and medical science, arts, and business were less likely than working humanities majors to have earned advanced degrees. Workers who were business majors were the least likely to have obtained an advanced degree, with approximately 22% having done so.

Figure III-3c, Full Size
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Humanities majors with advanced degrees were more likely to be working in management, professional, and related jobs than were majors in the same field who had not pursued additional education (Figure III-3d). Eighty-six percent of humanities ADHs worked in occupations of this kind. Among such occupations, those related to education were the most prevalent, with 31% of all humanities ADHs working in such jobs, more than twice the percentage of TBHs who did so. Approximately 14% of humanities ADHs were in precollegiate teaching and 11% in postsecondary. Legal occupations were the next most common among ADHs who had majored in the humanities. Approximately 14% worked in such jobs.4

Figure III-3d, Full Size
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A cross-field analysis reveals that the disparity between humanities ADHs and ADHs in other fields who held managerial, professional, or related positions was less pronounced than that observed among TBHs (Figure III-3e). A comparison of the fields also reveals that humanities ADHs and those with behavioral and social science majors (approximately 15% of whom worked in legal professions) were several times more likely than those with other types of undergraduate majors to have legal jobs. As with humanities TBHs, humanities ADHs were more evenly distributed across the major occupational sectors examined here than were their counterparts with undergraduate majors in other fields.

Figure III-3e, Full Size
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Humanistic training at the undergraduate level seems to equip people—by offering them marketable skills and/or allowing them to successfully pursue advanced training—to operate in a variety of occupational roles. Approximately 19% of humanities TBHs and 36% of humanities ADHs worked in “applied humanities” occupations. This occupational category encompasses education-related jobs (although the ACS data do not indicate whether those working in education are teaching humanities subjects or administering programs with a humanities orientation), museum and library occupations, writers, news analysts, reporters and correspondents, editors (text), and tour and travel guides.5 However, the data suggest that the bulk of humanities majors—including, for example, the almost 8% of humanities ADHs who were employed in community and social service occupations—worked in occupations that were not directly related to the disciplines in which they received their degrees.6


Notes

1 At any time in the previous five years.

2 Supplemental Table III-3 also supplies an estimate of the proportion of humanities majors who were employed when they completed the ACS questionnaire (approximately 93% for those with terminal bachelor’s degrees in the humanities and 96% of those who had majored in the humanities and then obtained an advanced degree in the humanities or some other field). This rate is calculated by dividing the number of currently employed degree holders by the number of degree holders in the labor force. The way in which the current employment rate is calculated thus results in a proportion that, counterintuitively, is higher than the share of college graduates who were employed in the previous five years (the latter calculation includes all college graduates with a given degree in the denominator, even those who were not in the labor force at the time of the survey). See Supplemental Table III-3 for a link to a definition of “labor force” and other key concepts.

3 Respondents who had more than one job in the previous five years were asked to report the job at which they worked the most hours.

4 For an estimate of the share of attorneys who have undergraduate degrees in the humanities, see Indicator III-5, Undergraduate Humanities Majors and the Professions.

5 TBHs in “applied humanities” occupations include educators (14.5% of all humanities TBHs); museum and library staff (0.7%); writers (1.7%); news analysts, reporters, and correspondents (0.4%); text editors (1.3%); and tour and travel guides (0.1%).

ADHs in “applied humanities” occupations include educators (30.5% of all humanities ADHs); museum and library staff (2.43%); writers (1.54%); news analysts, reporters, and correspondents (0.26%); text editors (1.04%); and tour and travel guides (0.04%).

6 This conclusion seems justified even though the way in which ACS classifies occupations does not allow for the counting of humanities majors working in other occupations, such as translators and historians, that can be thought of as humanistic in their orientation.

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Indicator III-4 Earnings and Job Satisfaction of Humanities Majors
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Updated (3/20/2012) with data from the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS).

A similar analysis has since been conducted by the Census Bureau using 2011 ACS data. Please note that the Bureau conceptualizes the “humanities” somewhat differently than does the Humanities Indicators (HI). The report supplies earnings estimates for two sub-sets of disciplines included by the HI in the humanities field, “literature and languages” and “liberal arts and history”. Additionally, Census has released a report that examines lifetime earnings by field of degree and occupation.

Earnings tend to be greater and unemployment lower among older college graduates. For a comparison of recent college graduates and more experienced graduates, see the 2012 report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The Center’s findings are based on an analysis of 2009–2010 ACS data.

Data from the ACS describe not only what kinds of occupations those with undergraduate degrees in the humanities pursue (see Indicator III-3, Occupations of College Graduates Who Majored in Humanities Disciplines) but also their earnings1 as compared with workers who earned bachelor’s degrees in other fields. An analysis of the ACS data, along with job satisfaction data collected as part of the B&B survey, provides a window on the rewards, both monetary and psychological, that humanities majors’ work affords them.

This indicator uses ACS data to estimate the earnings of two distinct groups. The first comprises full-time workers2 who hold terminal bachelor’s degrees in the humanities. The second group is the subset of full-time workers with humanities bachelor’s degrees who, as of 2009, also held advanced degrees in the humanities and other fields (information on the field of advanced degrees is not collected as part of the ACS). As Supplemental Table III-4 indicates, employment rates were similar for the two groups, with approximately 66% of humanities terminal bachelor’s holders (TBHs) and 70% of advanced degree holders (ADHs) having been employed full-time in the 12 months preceding their completion of the 2009 ACS questionnaire.3

This indicator also compares the earnings of humanities majors with those of workers who hold bachelor’s degrees in other fields. The fields differ with respect to the advanced degree attainment and employment rates (especially full-time employment rates) of their majors. Supplemental Table III-4 supplies information that facilitates comparison of the different fields along these dimensions.

The median earnings reported by male humanities TBHs (all earnings estimates are for those who worked full-time) were $54,0004 for the 12 months preceding response to the ACS (Figure III-4a; estimates of the 25th and 75th percentile earnings for humanities majors and majors in the other fields examined here are included in the supporting data table for this figure5). Male humanities TBHs’ earnings were most similar to those of men with terminal bachelor’s degrees in the life sciences and arts. The humanities median was 68% of that of male engineering TBHs (the group with the highest median earnings) and 84% of that for all male TBHs.

Figure III-4a, Full Size
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The median earnings of female TBHs were $43,000, or 80% of the male median. Female humanities TBHs’ earnings were most similar to those of their counterparts in the behavioral and social sciences and the life sciences. The humanities median for women was 65% of that for women with TBHs in engineering, the group with the highest median earnings. Women’s median earnings were somewhat closer than were men’s to the median for all fields, with the female humanities median being 92% of that for all women with terminal bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, the gap between humanities majors’ earnings and those of majors in better-paying fields tended to be lower for women than for men.

At 20%, the gender earnings gap experienced by TBHs in the humanities (calculated by the Humanities Indicators as the difference between men’s and women’s median earnings divided by men’s median earnings, in keeping with OECD practice) was toward the middle of the range found among the different fields; it was well below the gender gap observed in the behavioral and social sciences, physical sciences, and business, but greater than that in engineering, health and medical sciences, arts, and education. The gender gap for humanities was six percentage points lower than that for all TBHs.

In 2009, 45% of humanities majors with full-time employment possessed at least one advanced degree in the humanities or another field (see Supplemental Table III-4). Male humanities ADHs (advanced degree holders whose bachelor’s degrees are in the humanities; an ADH’s advanced degree may be in any field) reported median earnings of $80,000, while their female counterparts’ median earnings were $60,000 (Figure III-4b). The humanities median for men was most similar to that for the behavioral and social sciences, but the latter was still $10,000 higher. The median earnings of male humanities ADHs were 78% of the highest earning ADHs, those with bachelor’s degrees in life sciences, and were 89% of the median earnings of all ADHs.

Figure III-4b, Full Size
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Female ADHs with the highest median earnings were those with undergraduate degrees in engineering. Median earnings of humanities ADHs were approximately 71% of those of engineering ADHs but only $1,000 less than the median for all female ADHs. As was true for men, the median earnings of female ADHs with humanities degrees were most similar—equivalent, in fact—to those of female behavioral and social science majors who later earned advanced degrees.

The gap between men’s and women’s median earnings was five percentage points higher for advanced degree holders with humanities majors than for humanities TBHs. This was lower than in the sciences and business but substantially higher than in engineering, education, and the arts. In all higher-paying fields but one—engineering—female humanities ADHs’ earnings were closer to those of other majors than were the earnings of male humanities ADHs.

Figure III-4c depicts the earnings boost experienced by humanities majors who obtain an advanced degree in any field. The median gain was higher for men (48%) than for women (40%), as was the case in the natural sciences and business. For both male and female humanities ADHs, the boost was most similar in magnitude to that experienced by ADHs with bachelor’s degrees in the behavioral and social sciences. It was considerably lower than that of life sciences majors, the group of ADHs that realized the greatest monetary boost from their advanced degrees (81% for men; 56% for women), but higher than that of majors in all fields combined.

Figure III-4c, Full Size
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The range in median earnings among specific humanities disciplines was far narrower than among the broad academic fields discussed above (Figure III-4d). At the low end, male TBHs with degrees in area, ethnic, and civilization studies reported median earnings of $49,000, compared to male U.S. history TBHs, who made $60,000, the greatest median earnings level among examined disciplines. A median earnings estimate was not available for women with U.S. history majors, but among the other humanities disciplines the range of female median earnings was even narrower than that for men, with linguistics and comparative language and literature TBHs, the lowest earners, reporting median earnings of $38,000 and majors in English language and literature and art history/criticism, the highest earners, reporting $45,000. In all humanities disciplines, men made more than women. The gender gap in median earnings ranged from 13% for English and art history/criticism to 27% for history (non-U.S.), linguistics, and comparative language and literature majors.

Figure III-4d, Full Size
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The humanities majors who enjoyed the greatest boost in median earnings (69%) from the attainment of an advanced degree were holders of degrees in less commonly studied languages other than English (Figure III-4e). Philosophy and religious studies majors who pursued advanced training experienced the least substantial earnings boost, reporting median earnings that were 36% higher than TBHs in the discipline.

Figure III-4e, Full Size
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The job satisfaction data presented here were collected in 2003 from survey respondents who had left college ten years earlier. (Although almost a decade old, these data are the most recent of their kind available.) They reveal that despite the interfield differences in earnings described above, majors in all academic fields reported similarly high average levels of job satisfaction: 87–93% of respondents described themselves as being “generally satisfied” with their jobs (Figure III-4f; these jobs are not necessarily in the fields in which graduates received their degrees). In response to being asked whether their current employment afforded them opportunities to use their education, 78% of humanities majors said it did (education and health services majors reported the greatest levels of this type of satisfaction, approximately 90% and 85%). The majority of humanities majors also reported that their jobs provided opportunity for advancement. The only groups to report substantially higher levels of satisfaction with this aspect of their jobs were biological and physical science majors.

Figure III-4f, Full Size
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Notes

1 For the purposes of the ACS, the U.S. Census Bureau defines earnings as “the sum of wage or salary income and net income from self-employment. ‘Earnings’ represent the amount of income received regularly for people 16 years old and over before deductions for personal income taxes, Social Security, bond purchases, union dues, Medicare deductions, etc. An individual with earnings is one who has either wage/salary income or self-employment income, or both. Respondents who ‘break even’ in self-employment income and therefore have zero self-employment earnings also are considered ‘individuals with earnings’” (from ACS documentation provided at http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Downloads/data_documentation/SubjectDefinitions/2009_ACSSubjectDefinitions.pdf, p. 81).

2 A full-time worker is defined as an individual who has worked at least 35 hours per week for 50 or more weeks (including paid vacation) in the preceding 12 months.

3 This rate was calculated by dividing the number of degree holders who reported working full-time by the number of degree holders in the labor force. See Supplemental Table III-4 for a link to the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of “labor force” and other key terms.

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

5 The 25th and 75th percentiles are known as the upper and lower quartiles. Quartiles are statistics that divide the observations of a numeric sample into several groups, each of which contains 25% of the data. The lower, middle, and upper quartiles are computed by ordering the values for a particular variable from smallest to largest and then finding the values below which fall 25%, 50%, and 75% of the data. The lower quartile and the upper quartile are the two values that define the interquartile range (the middle quartile is also known as the median). The interquartile range, which excludes the most extreme values of a data distribution, is used to describe the range of “typical” or “usual” values exhibited by a set of persons or objects.

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Indicator III-5 Undergraduate Humanities Majors and the Professions
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Updated (6/10/2011)

In order to assess the extent to which individuals with undergraduate majors in the humanities are prepared for professional employment, this indicator first focuses on their performance on professional school entrance examinations in business, medicine, and law. To be sure, data on the educational backgrounds of those taking professional school admission examinations do not reveal what careers those individuals actually pursue. Nonetheless, given the substantial fees and preparation involved in professional school examinations, test-taking by humanities majors does in itself indicate what career options they are seriously exploring. Moreover, test results can provide some measure of the applicability of the humanistic knowledge and skills gained in college to the entrance requirements for various professional occupations. After reviewing such professional examination data, this indicator looks more generally at professional degree holders in order to ascertain what proportion of them have bachelor’s degrees in the humanities.

Data on who takes the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which are available from the Graduate Management Admission Council, reveal that GMAT test takers are less likely to be humanities majors than graduates in any other field, constituting 4–6% of all examinees over the 2000–2009 time period (Figure III-5a). Students with humanities backgrounds have, however, performed better than business majors, on average, and approximately as well as social and natural science majors (Figure III-5b).

Figure III-5a, Full Size
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Figure III-5b, Full Size
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Like the GMAT, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) did not draw many of its examinees from the ranks of humanities majors, who must do significant work in science, in addition to fulfilling the requirements for their major, in order to be prepared for the MCAT and apply to medical school. According to data provided by the American Association of Medical Colleges, from 1991 to 2009 the proportion of those taking the MCAT who were humanities majors was approximately 3–4% (Figure III-5c).1 Even though they were in the minority, humanities majors were strong performers relative to majors in other fields. From 1991 to 2000 they were the highest-scoring group of majors on the MCAT, and from 2001 to 2009 only math and statistics majors scored appreciably higher (Figure III-5d).

Figure III-5c, Full Size
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Figure III-5d, Full Size
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Takers of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) are much likelier than those of other professional school examinations to have undergraduate degrees in the humanities. From 1996 to 2009, the humanities share of LSAT examinees hovered around 20% of all test takers, according to data provided to the HI by the Law School Admission Council (Figure III-5e). Over this time period, humanities majors performed slightly better on the exam than behavioral and social science graduates, and their average score was within one point of engineering, math, and natural science majors (Figure III-5f).

Figure III-5e, Full Size
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Figure III-5f, Full Size
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From 1996 to 2008, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, approximately 6–8% of all noninstitutionalized U.S. civilians with medical degrees had undergraduate degrees in the humanities (Figure III-5g). In 2008, 22% of those holding advanced degrees in law (LL.B., J.D., and Ph.D.) had majored in humanities (down from the 2001 high of 28%). This proportion was larger than that for any other field, and it would have been even greater if those with bachelor’s degrees in history—a discipline considered by the HI to be part of the humanities field, but one that the Census Bureau classifies as a social science—had been included (Figure III-5h).

Figure III-5g, Full Size
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Figure III-5h, Full Size
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Note

1 The figure excludes the percentage of examinees who reported an undergraduate major in biology. These students are the majority of MCAT test takers.

The AAMC defines the humanities field rather differently than the HI. The former considers library science and the performing arts to be humanities disciplines but treats history as a social science discipline.

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