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Trends in Doctoral Fields of Study

- April 21, 2009

Monkey Cage reader George Osner sent me this post by Greg Mankiw. It discusses a recent paper identifying the undergraduate institutions who produce the most future economics Ph.D’s. If you account for the number of economics undergraduates, the winner is Swarthmore.

I don’t have much to add, but looking at the paper did lead me to its data source: the Survey of Earned Doctorates. And then that led me to these tables (pdf). And specifically to Table 2, which is entitled “Major field of study of doctorate recipients for selected years, 1977–2007.” I made a graph from the data:


I wasn’t surprised to see the life and physical sciences, as well as engineering, becoming more popular, and the social sciences becoming less popular. I didn’t expect doctorates in education to be so popular in the 1977 survey but then so much less popular in 2007. Perhaps a commenter can fill me in on what’s been happening in the doctoral study of education.

To get to this blog’s parochial interest: the percentage of people earning political science doctorates has basically followed the trend of the social sciences. In 1977, 2.8% of doctorates were in political science or international relations; in 2007, 1.9%. But the raw number of political science doctorates hasn’t declined in any consistent fashion: there were 900 in 1977 and 933 in 2007.

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