Markets in Ph.D.s

This post was triggered by a comment in one of my healthcare missives.

My career has been a little weird, including 18 years at a college lecturer (accounting and taxation). This has been great, I get to spend time with young people, have full access to great libraries, and don’t have to worry much about administrative crapola. (I do not have a PhD, and crapola is not a real academic term!)

I tend to look at everything through a consulting prism, and observe my surrounding while I teach. So the question becomes…

Why do so many people earn PhDs in fields where getting a career job is so difficult?

This year a new Ph.D. in accounting from an AACSB school will get at least 5 jobs offers, if they bother to interview that many times. Starting salary with stipends and summer teaching, maybe $110,000 – $180,000. There is a severe shortage.

A new Ph.D. in English lit will face an ugly job market, for about the 20th year in a row. Many will fall into adjunct purgatory. The pay is just awful.

I don’t know the market for economics PhDs all that well, other than there is a very small and elite market and then everyone else, I think.

So why do people do it? Why a PhD in lit or history when there is no job at the other end?

I think it is for the love of the discipline, a noble objective. Is it economically irrational? I can guarantee that studying English lit is more fun than earning an accounting doctorate, but is there a payoff?

I can understand loving a discipline, I love literature and history and if there hadn’t been a glut many years ago I might have been a historian. It bothers me that I will never write a thesis or dissertation in history. I am jealous of people who write books I wanted to write (currently a book on the Dustbowl). I want to be Dumas Malone when I grow up (check Google).

Conspiracy theory: universities have too many Ph.D. programs in some fields because they need a cheap supply of teaching assistants, thus the plethora of English doctorate programs.

So what do all of you smart folks think about this? Can this market smooth out, of will it always be out-of-whack?