Monday, November 12, 2012

87. The financial rewards are decreasing.

No one working in academe will be surprised to learn that among the most common search-engine queries bringing readers to this blog are queries concerning money (see What Brought You Here). When the supply of workers exceeds the demand for labor, workers' wages tend to fall. This is the situation in academe. There are far too many PhDs produced every year for the academic job market to absorb them all (see Reason 55), and universities fill most of their teaching positions with poorly paid graduate students and adjuncts (see Reason 14). While the "glut" of PhDs seems to be slowly attracting more and more attention, it is in fact nothing new. The problem has existed for decades. Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that the situation is getting worse. In January 2010, under the heading "Another Reason to Just Say No to a Ph.D.," Gabriela Montell posted an informative graph on the Chronicle of Higher Education hiring blog. It was the work of economist Michael Mandel, who used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to determine that the "real earnings for full-time workers with a doctoral degree" had dropped 10% between 1999 and 2008. Looking at these numbers, Mandel concluded, "there's no sense of a PhD being a desirable degree."

This is information that the public rarely sees. Note that Mandel found a 10% drop in the earnings of people with doctorates who were working (and working full-time). A growing number of people with PhDs cannot find anything but part-time work. The American Association of University Professors reports that part-time faculty members represent more than half of all faculty members in the United States. In June 2012, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce published a study [PDF] showing that more than 30% of part-time faculty members have doctoral degrees. (The Chronicle highlighted the authors' characterization of the study as a "dismal" portrayal of the life of a part-time professor.) And don't forget the thousands of Americans with doctorates who depend on food stamps to feed themselves (see Reason 83). Looking only at the salaries of tenured and tenure-track professors (who represent a shrinking share of the academic workforce) can leave you with a false impression of the economic advantages of having a PhD. With so many PhDs on the job market (and more arriving every year), there is little reason for universities or other employers to pay a premium to hire them. In monetary terms, the value of a PhD is steadily declining.