Employment in the Humanities

One fact about the Humanities that is well acknowledged is that studying it leads to personal satisfaction. Students come to the Humanities because they love the field, they are passionate about the questions it generates, and they have a deep attraction to the specific methodology it employs. Humanistic inquiry tends to embed itself into the lives of our students, generating a lively commitment to the type of broad life-long learning that is emblematic of the liberal arts tradition. Once you study the Humanities, you always see things as a Humanist would.

Does this personal satisfaction come at a practical cost? Some will have you believe that students interested in the Humanities must choose between personal or economic satisfaction. Thankfully, the data does not support this. A recent study commissioned by the Academy of the Arts and Sciences (AAS) collected data on available jobs, seen in this chart:

CHART: Employment in the Humanities


According to Humanities Indicators, the chart breaks into the following paths:




Humanities Occupations
(794,708; 21% of total humanities-related employment)

Humanities occupations are jobs (beyond research and teaching) that require humanities knowledge and/or humanistic skills or that support key elements of the nation’s humanities infrastructure. Such occupations include:

  • Archivists: 6,300
  • Audiovisual Collections Specialists (including those who prepare, plan, and operate audiovisual teaching aids for use in education or who record, catalog, and file audiovisual materials in libraries and museums as well as a variety of other institutions and enterprises): 6,800
  • Authors and Writers (nontechnical; news analysts, correspondents, and reporters are tallied separately): 151,700 (includes self-employed)
  • Editors (text): 129,600 (includes self-employed)
  • Historians (nonfaculty): 4,100
  • Humanities Museum Curators: 4,212 (includes self-employed/freelancers)
  • Humanities Museum Technicians and Conservators: 3,996
  • Interpreters and Translators: 50,900
  • Librarians: 159,900
  • Library Technicians: 120,600
  • News Analysts, Correspondents, and Reporters: 69,300
  • Technical Writers: 48,900
  • Tour Guides and Escorts: 38,400
  • Humanities Institutions
    (1,199,182; 31% of total humanities-related employment)

The jobs described here involve the technical, administrative, customer service, and maintenance functions essential to the operation of key types of humanities institutions, including:

Archives and Libraries: 129,700
Colleges and Universities: 311,741
Humanities Museums: 128,823
Primary and Secondary Schools: 628,918
Book, Newspaper, and Periodical Publishing[3]
(excluding Internet-only publishing) (489,603; 13% of total humanities-related employment)

As the AAS study shows, careers in the Humanities are plentiful and varied. Humanities BAs find careers in university and secondary education as teachers or staff, and outside of the education sector as authors, as writers and editors, as interpreters, as librarians, as journalists, as marketing and advertisement specialists, as analysts, and in museums – to simply name a few.

What are the unemployment statistics for the Humanities majors?
Surely you’ve heard all the doom and gloom stories about the Humanities, and had people ask you “what are you going to do with that degree?” Well, instead of operating on the level of pure assumption, let’s just look at data, shall we?
Georgetown University is in the midst of a long-term study that tracks people in different majors to determine unemployment rates, salaries, and so on. Below, in Chart 2, you see the unemployment rates across the different majors for 2009 – 2010.

Chart 2: Unemployment Rates in the Disciplines



When viewing the chart, it is important to keep in mind two things:

  1. These statistics were generated for 2009 – 2010, the worst year of the economic crisis that started in 2008. So the numbers all around these fields are far higher than usual (the unemployment rate in the US during that period was 10% – it is now 7.5%)!
  2. At Drury, “The Humanities” includes Communication, and here Communication has its own column. So really the Humanities should be one column that collapses both of those columns.

We’ve created a table for to crunch the data for easy Humanities to non-Humanities comparisons:




Table 2: Comparing Unemployment in the Humanities to the Non-Humanities, 2009 – 2010

Recent Grads Experienced Grads Graduate Degree
Humanities 9.4% 6.1% 3.6%
Communication 7.3% 6.0% 4.1%
Non-Humanities 8.17% 5.15% 3.9%
Difference with non-Humanities +1.23% (Hum)- 0.87%(Communication) + 0.95% (Humanities)+ 0.85% (Communication) – 0.5% (Humanities)+ 0.2% (Communication)


What does this tell us? A few things:

Recent Graduates (those who just graduated):

  • Communication students did a bit better (7.3%) than average non-Humanities (8.17%)
  • Humanities majors (9.4%) did a bit worse than non-Humanities (8.17%)

Experienced Graduates (those who graduates years before)

  • Communication and Humanities majors did a bit worse than non-Humanities, but in both cases within a percentage point of non-Humanities majors (0.85% and 0.95%)

Graduate Degree Holders (those who received higher than a BA)

  • Humanities did better than non-Humanities by half a percentage point (by 0.5%) and Communication did slightly worse (0.2% more).

What in summary do these data tell us – that on average the Humanities majors and the non-Humanities majors really don’t really differ by much with respect to unemployment rates. Non-Humanities majors seem to have a slight edge without a graduate degree, and then lose that edge if the person has an MA or a PhD.
So our question to you is: is it worth avoiding what you love to do (the Humanities) and plan to pursue no more than a BA, is it worth avoiding the Humanities based on such small differences?

Of course, if you plan to get a graduate degree, there’s a slight edge for the Humanities!