Archaeologists and Anthropologists Degrees Most Recession Proof – Unemployment Rate of 5%

Posted on November 5, 2012


Data provided by the Census Bureau of the United States shows that in the heart of the Great Recession (2010) those with Archaeology and Anthropology degrees only had a 5% unemployment rate. They also made on average $55,000, with many making six figures. Because of this low employment rate and high pay I would recommend that anyone considering getting a university degree seriously look at a degree in Anthropology or Archaeology.

If you have made it this far into this post some of you must be thinking, “WHAT? That can not be right?”. You might be questioning those numbers but you would be wrong, those numbers are 100% true and actual numbers produced by the Untied States Census Bureau. Unfortunately, they are not very accurate, if you bear with me I will explain.

I apologies for misleading you with the title  but this post is another one in my series on archaeology and the media. A few weeks ago I posted about the pressures that reporters face when creating articles. I also mentioned how reporters use catchy titles to draw people in e.g. Archaeologists and Anthropologists Have Most Recession Proof Degrees. Over the last few weeks several interesting articles have shown up on news services that highlights the problems this creates.

Don’t Bother Earning These Five Degrees

Unwanted Degree #3 – Anthropology or Archeology

Interesting? Yes. Important? Definitely. Marketable? Not so much…

Lynn says a bachelor’s degree in either anthropology or archeology is “totally limiting. Except for on a faculty or doing tours to the Parthenon, I don’t know what you would actually do with this [degree]. Maybe there’s some career in excavating or some other specialty, but I would assume the demand for these degrees is really small and shrinking.”

Again, numbers from the “Hard Times” report seem to back that, with recent grads in these areas logging a 10.5 percent unemployment rate.

The Lynn the article speaks of is “Vicki Lynn, senior vice president of Universum, a global talent recruiting company that works with many Fortune 500 companies”. All articles need one person to quote from and in this case it is a head hunter who sounds like she might be able to comment on degrees from archaeology to sociology, or maybe not as she has no idea what you can do with an anthropology degree.

This article sounded a lot like this article from Forbes that came out the week before- The 10 Worst College Majors

No. 1: Anthropology And Archeology

Unemployment rate for *recent grads: 10.5%
Median earnings for recent grads: $28,000

Unemployment rate for *experienced grads: 6.2%
Median earnings for experienced grads: $47,000

*Recent college graduates are ages 22 to 26, and experienced workers are ages 30 to 54

It is not uncommon to recycle and other people’s idea by just tweaking the format- 10 becomes 5, add some quotes for an “expert”.

Both of these “articles” get their data from a report by the Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) at Georgetown University. You can see the full report here. There are many serious flaws in how the reports findings were used in the “articles”. First off, the report does not mention the unemployment rate for recent graduates for many degree- Information sciences, Computer Networking, Chemical Engineering, etc., the list goes on and on. In fact, they only provide these numbers for 43 out the 94 degrees examined. Basically,  the articles were based off of data that was missing 54% of the results. How do we know archaeology and anthropology grads have high unemployment? Compared to what? Half of a list of degrees?

Unfortunately, if you are a reporter and if you noticed this then you just killed your story. Luckily, on very tight time constraints it is hard to notice details like that. Now lets go to the actual data used in the report:

Data from the American Community Survey for the years 2009 and 2010 were pooled to provide a larger sample size for the estimates. The unemployment rates were then computed for each of the three groups by dividing the total unemployed with the total employed and unemployed. The earnings used are median earnings in 2010 dollars rounded to the nearest $1,000. The three groups are: recent college graduates (those between ages 22 and 26 with bachelor degrees), experienced college graduates (those between ages 30 and 54), and graduate degree holders (those with master’s degrees or higher and are between 30 and 54). Median earnings are based on those who worked more than 35 hours a week and at least 50 weeks a year. All calculations use the survey weights provided by the Census Bureau.

I went and tracked down this data at the United States Census Bureau’s website- Turns out the CB conducts a small sample survey of US citizens each year called the American Community Survey, maybe you have filled it out. After poking around, I found that there are three levels of data- 1yr, 3yr, 5yr. Moreover, the CB lists guidance on the data:

1-year estimates 3-year estimates 5-year estimates
12 months of collected data 36 months of collected data 60 months of collected data
Data for areas with populations of 65,000+ Data for areas with populations of 20,000+ Data for all areas
Smallest sample size Larger sample size than 1-year Largest sample size
Less reliable than 3-year or 5-year More reliable than 1-year; less reliable than 5-year Most reliable
Most current data Less current than 1-year estimates; more current than 5-year Least current
Best used when Best used when Best used when
Currency is more important than precision Analyzing large populations More precise than 1-year, more current than 5-yearAnalyzing smaller populations Examining smaller geographies because 1-year estimates are not available Precision is more important than currency Analyzing very small populations Examining tracts and other smaller geographies because 1-year estimates are not available

The CEW report actually used two 1yr data-sets, which is the least accurate of the data. Moreover, the CB provides margins of error within a 90% confidence for these numbers. So the numbers could have been off by as much as several % points (unemployment) or $1,000 to $10,000s average salary. However, this is not included in the report so we don’t actually know how accurate these numbers are and what sort of range should be used, is unemployment really 10% or is it 8-12%.

How long did it take me to track all this down? About 2 hours of looking at the CEW report and around the CB website for what I wanted. How long does a reporter have to write 2-3 articles? About 2 hours. You can see a real problem in time to write to time to conduct any meaningful research.

It gets worse!

How could I write that the CB shows that archaeologists only have 5% unemployment but still have it be true? It is actually very easy. The CB actually allows anyone to download some of their data, through the Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS). PUMS is about half of the actual data collected and represents a little over 1% of the US population. I downloaded the data for all of the US from 2010 and took a look at the data. I separated out everyone who had an archaeology/anthropology degree and found there was only 5% unemployment.  I have attached the data here USAPUM, but you will need this document PUMSDataDict11 to see what all the abbreviations mean. You will want column BT (WAGP) for wages and column CG (ESR) for employment (3 is unemployed). The CEW report only used those listed as employed and unemployed but excluded several other categories:

Employment status recode
b .N/A (less than 16 years old)
1 .Civilian employed, at work
2 .Civilian employed, with a job but not at work
3 .Unemployed
4 .Armed forces, at work
5 .Armed forces, with a job but not at work
6 .Not in labor force

I did not exclude those not in the labor force for the results which is how I got 5% unemployed. With a slightly different take on employment and a smaller data-set I was able to say that people with anthropology and archaeology degrees have very low unemployment and thus everyone should get such a degree. All of which is backed up by a trusted name like the Census Bureau.  I would though never use this data in any sort of paper as the accuracy is too poor (the CB give warnings about this) but this does show that with a little bit of moving around I can make the numbers say what ever I want them to say.

In essence, be skeptical of all news articles.