The Job Market is Saturated with PhDs

Posted on September 5, 2011


“The job market is saturated with PhDs” I hear this phrase all of the time in archaeology. It would explain why there are 100-200 applicants for every tenure track position in archaeology. It may be true but I like hard numbers and would like to know what exactly a “saturated market” really looks like.

It is surprisingly hard to get decent numbers but a survey of the AAA guide found these numbers. Boites et al. 2002

Anthropology PhD's 1966-2002

Anthropology PhD's 1966-2002 (Figure 2 boites et al 2002)

Though when I contacted the American Anthroplogy Association they provided me with a different set of numbers but not broken up by sub-field. From the chart above, which presents all anthropology PhDs by sub-field, we can see that archaeology PhDs make up on average 24% of anthropology PhDs, possibly higher there are a quite a few unidentified dissertations. Applying that ratio to the numbers provided by the AAA we get a result of:

Estimation of Archaeology PhDs granted in North America

Estimation of Archaeology PhDs granted in North America

Looking at those numbers we can see that between 1980-2009 roughly 3480+ people received a PhD in archaeology, in North America. Since that is only 30 years it is pretty safe to assume that almost all of those people are still in the job market.

Looking at the last ten years of the data 2000-2009 we can see that 1450+ people received a PhD in archaeology with an average of about 145 new PhD’s each year. Assuming that anyone who has graduated in the last 5-10 years is eligible for an academic position than it is easy to see why most tenure track academic jobs, with specific research topic requirements,  have 100-200 people fighting for it.

There are only 1500 academic and 14000 CRM archaeology jobs in North America, which means that potentially (not everyone with a PhD in archaeology becomes an archaeologists but it must be pretty high percentage) 1 and 5 jobs in archaeology could be held by a archaeology PhD, that of course does not count other discpline PhDs like museum studies, heritage management, etc. (15000/3000 PhDs since 1980). That is a pretty high ratio considering the normal population only has a ratio of 1 in 100. That is what is meant by the term, “The Job Market is Saturated with PhDs”.


2002 Boites S., Geller P., and Patterson T.
The Growth and Changing Composition of Anthropology, Report American Anthropology Association.