Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Academics

Wonder BabiesI last wrote about the academic labor market in May 2015. Nearly a year later, that market is still . . . terrible. And it’s especially terrible for women.

According to a December 2015 report by the Modern Language Association (MLA), advertisements in its Job Information List (JIL) for full-time faculty positions in both English and foreign languages have decreased steadily since the recession of 2008 and are now at their lowest point since the MLA began tracking this data in 1975.

If we look at Table 324.10 on page 574 of the NCES Digest of Education Statistics 2013, we see that the number of doctorates in English fell by more than 10 percent from 1976 to 2011. Yet in Table 303.10 on page 396, we see that total fall student enrollments at degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by more than 90 percent over the same time period.

A smaller number of open full-time positions, despite fewer earned doctorates and nearly twice as many undergraduate students to teach, means that English has become a part-time profession.

The discipline of history is in a similar situation. The American History Association (AHA) reported last month that twice as many history doctorates were awarded in 2014 than in 1989, yet the number of job openings is the same as it was in 1993. Particular sub-fields are in worse shape than others; for example, 128 positions advertised with the AHA in 2014 “sought a geographic specialty in U.S. history a year after 433 people graduated” with a U.S. history specialization.

How does this relate to women? Academic fields with the largest increases in part-time faculty and the largest proportion of part-time faculty who are women are typically the lowest paid. Fields with the highest salaries and the highest proportions of male faculty show the slowest rates of adjunctification.* In other words, the casualization of the academic labor force hits females the hardest. For example, according to the MLA’s recent report, less than half of full-time instructional faculty are now tenured at tenure-granting institutions. But while fifty-four percent of males had tenure in 2011-12, only 41 percent of females did. Graduate study in certain disciplines is a bad career plan, but it is especially bad for women.

*Josephine McQuail, “Contingent Realities for Women: National and Regional Trends,” Modern Language Studies, volume 44, issue 1 (Summer 2014).