The plain fact is that we train far more humanities Ph.D.s than there are jobs for. In a recent year, the American History Association reported about 340 tenure-track job openings for historians, plus maybe another hundred jobs outside history departments that might recruit a historian. In the same year, American universities minted about 1,150 new Ph.D. historians. In economics, there were 2,650 new jobs and about 1,250 new Ph.D.s. The contrast is stark and largely typical of the situation in humanities versus STEM fields.
In part, this is not new. The “crisis” has been going on for an academic lifetime—at least since the 1970s. Academics who started their career when the Modern Language Association first reached the “melancholy conclusion” that, “should present trends continue, life … particularly in the humanities, could turn grim indeed,” well, those academics have now mostly retired.
The economic problem in the humanities market is too much supply chasing too little demand. While one may lament the too-little demand, we’re left with the question of why supply hasn’t adjusted. Why do universities keep training so many humanities Ph.D.s when their market is so weak? It helps to understand that decisions about the number of Ph.D. students to admit are partially at the discretion of individual academic departments and partially decided by the choice of university administrators about how much money to allocate to a given department. It’s worth pointing out that resource allocations change very slowly in universities (but that’s slow on a scale of years, not slow on a scale of decades.) Let me suggest some reasons why universities continue to churn out so many Ph.D.s in the humanities.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at How many humanities Ph.D.s should universities produce?