Humanities Indicators
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Workforce  >  Earnings & Occupations of Humanities Majors
 
The Employment Status of Humanities Majors
(Updated February 2018)

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the economic value of college degrees. The following indicators examine the rate of unemployment among humanities majors and how it compares to the levels for majors in other broad academic fields. Key findings include the fact that older humanities majors (as compared with those who graduated more recently) and those with advanced degrees (relative to those whose highest degree was a bachelor’s) tend have lower levels of unemployment, and that humanities majors are somewhat likelier than college graduates in general to be unemployed.

Findings

  • In 2015, 4.3% of the humanities majors who were terminal bachelor’s degree holders (TBHs) were unemployed (defined here as someone who does not have a job, actively looked for work in the previous four weeks, and is currently available for work; Indicator III-3f).[1] This was higher than the 3.6% rate among all TBHs. TBHs who majored in the health and medical sciences or education had the lowest rates of unemployment, at 2.6% and 2.7% respectively. (Note that this compares to a national rate of 5.2% among all Americans ages 25 to 64, including those without college degrees.)[2]
  • Male humanities TBHs had a somewhat higher unemployment rate than their female counterparts (4.5% as compared to 4.1%). The widest gender gap in unemployment rates was found among those with engineering degrees. The unemployment rate for male engineering TBHs was 3.1%, as compared to a 4.1% rate among women.
  • The unemployment rate among people who received a bachelor’s degree in the humanities and subsequently earned an advanced degree (in any field) was 2.9%, slightly above the 2.5% rate among all graduates who had earned advanced degrees (Indicator III-3g). Graduates with an advanced degree who majored in education or the health and medical sciences and received an advanced degree had the lowest unemployment rates (1.8% and 1.9%).[3]
  • While for humanities TBHs, men were more likely to be unemployed than women, male humanities majors with advanced degrees (in any field) were somewhat less likely than their female counterparts to be unemployed. The unemployment rate for male humanities majors who had gone on to earn an advanced degree was 2.7%, as compared to 3% for women.
  • Among graduates with advanced degrees, the widest gender gaps in unemployment were found among those who majored in engineering and the life sciences.
  • Among early-career humanities TBHs (ages 24 to 34), men had a higher rate of unemployment (4.6%) than women (3.6%; Indicator III-3h).[4] Among the older cohort (ages 35 to 54) men and women had more similar rates of unemployment (3.7% and 3.9%).
  • Among humanities majors with advanced degrees who were 24 to 34, the unemployment rate for men was higher among men than women (3.8% versus 2.9%). Among those ages 35 to 54, the situation was reversed, with 2.3% of men unemployed, as compared to 3.1% of women.
  • Among younger TBHs (ages 24 to 34), graduates in the arts had the highest unemployment rate, 4.4%—higher than the 4.0% rate for the humanities (Indicator III-3i). Younger TBHs in the health and medical sciences had the lowest rate of unemployment, 2.6%.
  • Among older TBHs (ages 35 to 54), arts majors and humanities majors had the highest rates of unemployment (4.1% and 3.8%), while the rate among health and medical sciences graduates was the lowest, 2.0%.
  • Among younger college graduates (ages 24 to 34) with advanced degrees, those with undergraduate degrees in the arts and the behavioral and social sciences had the highest unemployment rates (3.5% and 3.4%; Indicator III-3j). The unemployment rate for humanities majors was 3.2%. Education majors had the lowest unemployment among those in the younger cohort with advanced degrees (1.2%).
  • The unemployment rate for older graduates (ages 35 to 54) with advanced degrees was highest among undergraduate arts majors (3.4%), followed by graduates from the humanities (2.8%). The rate for humanities majors was close to the rate for graduates from the behavioral and social sciences (2.7%) at this stage in their lives. Advanced degree holders who majored in education or health and medical sciences as undergraduates had the lowest rates of unemployment (1.3%).
III-3f: Unemployment* among People with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree, by Gender and Undergraduate Major, 2015

* People are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the previous four weeks, and are currently available for work. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk. Fields are arranged in descending order of unemployment rate among both genders.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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III-3g: Unemployment* among People with an Advanced Degree, by Gender and Undergraduate Major, 2015

* People are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the previous four weeks, and are currently available for work. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk. Fields are arranged in descending order of unemployment rate among both genders.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
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III-3h: Unemployment* among People with an Undergraduate Degree in the Humanities, by Age, Gender, and Highest Degree, 2015

* People are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the previous four weeks, and are currently available for work. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
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III-3i: Unemployment* among People with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree, by Age and Undergraduate Major, 2015

* People are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the previous four weeks, and are currently available for work. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/suppIII-3i.xlsx../cmsData/ppt/III-3i.ppt../cmsData/pdf/III-3i.pdf
III-3j: Unemployment* among People with an Advanced Degree, by Age and Undergraduate Major, 2015

* People are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the previous four weeks, and are currently available for work. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/suppIII-3j.xlsx../cmsData/ppt/III-3j.ppt../cmsData/pdf/III-3j.pdf

Endnotes

[1] Please see “About the Data” for more information as to how the unemployment rates reported here, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) data, compare to the commonly known monthly unemployment rates, which are based on the Current Population Survey, a joint effort of the Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
[2] U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey (via American FactFinder; accessed 7/28/2017)
[3] The unemployment rates presented in this graph are for graduates of all ages—including the youngest and oldest, who have rates that are substantially higher than for the two age groups examined as part of Indicator III-3h.
[4] The ACS does not ask respondents about their amount of work experience. Thus the Humanities Indicators uses age to distinguish between workers who are in the first years of their career and those who are more experienced. Age and work experience are not perfectly correlated, but age does provide an approximate measure of work experience that allows the Humanities Indicators to examine the effect of this experience on unemployment and earnings.