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This research paper focuses on social and behavioral scientists as professionals in the United States. It addresses the nature of these professions, the process of professionalization, the role of credentials, patterns in degree production, and the contours of the labor force in social and behavioral science (hereinafter called Social/Related science) ﬁelds. In this context, professionalization refers to the processes through which individuals become socialized as professionals. Certiﬁcation refers to the authorization or authentication of credentials. And, labor force refers to that portion of the population (in this case of these professions) that is economically active; that is, either employed or, if unemployed, available to work.
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1. The Social And Behavioral Sciences As Professions
The social and behavioral sciences constitute more than a single profession. Disciplines like economics, political science, psychology, and sociology have their own specialized training, expertise, reward structures, associations, networks, and norms. As scientiﬁc ﬁelds dedicated to the study of human social phenomena, they share features in common. Yet, because of their arenas of knowledge, occupational cultures, collegial interactions, labor markets, and how they are perceived by others, they comprise diﬀerent professional groups. Moreover, these professions are not the same as the academic profession—although many persons with advanced degrees in the Social/Related sciences (especially with doctoral degrees) are employed in colleges and universities and, as such, are also academic professionals.
2. The Process Of Professionalization
Professionalization involves the development of skills, identities, norms, and values associated with becoming part of a professional group. Through this process, recruits to the social and behavioral sciences acquire both substantive and methodological knowledge and develop understandings of their roles that permit them to function as professionals in these ﬁelds. Also, by training newcomers, these professions seek to ensure that the work of their sciences will continue congruent with certain principles and practices.
Research on professionalization dates back to the 1950s. Early research focused on the medical (e.g., Becker et al. 1961, Merton et al. 1957) and legal (e.g., Lortie 1959, Warkov and Zelan 1965) professions. Scholars also began examining graduate education in relation to academic or scientiﬁc careers (e.g., Pease 1967, Wright 1964). As these and recent studies (see, e.g., Keith and Moore 1995) indicate, although professionalization continues during the early years of employment, graduate departments are the primary socialization sites. In departments, students learn what is expected and rewarded and, conversely, what constitutes unacceptable practices (e.g., Anderson et al. 1994).
Across scientiﬁc disciplines, graduate education aims to develop in students a level of scholarly proﬁciency through formal (e.g., courses, qualifying exams, dissertations) and informal (e.g., attendance at scholarly meetings) training. A curriculum that initiates students progressively into more independent work and autonomous thinking helps develop professionals who can both master knowledge and produce original work (Sullivan 1991). Also important is a curriculum that examines the range of roles integral to being a professional scientist (e.g., teaching, engaging in peer review of others’ work). Similarly, a curriculum needs to address what it means to be a professional in terms of oral and written communication, ethical conduct, and other career skills. Finally, quality mentoring is key (e.g., Keith and Moore 1995, Anderson et al. 1994). It makes a diﬀerence for students’ productivity, belief in the norms of appropriate conduct, professional activity, self-conﬁdence, and satisfaction with graduate school.
Through the professionalization process, graduate students also develop shared norms of science that transcend any one discipline. Merton (1973) saw these to be ‘universalism’—research should be judged based on scientiﬁc merit; ‘communality’—ﬁndings should be made public; ‘disinterestedness’—research should be done to advance knowledge; and ‘organized skepticism’—the scientiﬁc community should suspend judgment until the evidence is in. While scholars debate the inﬂuence of these norms and the presence of countervailing norms (Zuckerman 1988, Ritzer and Walczak 1986, pp. 225–35), few would dispute that there is a culture of science and that socialization in graduate school aims to engender support for and adherence to its norms.
Professionalization is important as well to the development of expertise, patterns of activity, and values that are discipline-speciﬁc. Scientiﬁc disciplines diﬀer as to their intellectual tasks, their methods of inquiry, and how their work is done and rewarded (e.g., Biglan 1973, Lodahl and Gordon 1972). For example, chemistry in comparison to sociology has a longstanding tradition of intensive collaboration on more tightly deﬁned problems. Thus, chemistry students are more closely supervised, work in research teams, and are involved in joint publication; sociology students have more intermittent contact with advisors, work more independently, and may or may not engage in collaboration (see Anderson et al. 1994, Babchuk et al. 1999). Sociology students, however, work and publish more collaboratively than do anthropology students, who are in a ﬁeld more inﬂuenced by single investigator, ethnographic research (Babchuk et al. 1999).
Not unexpectedly, departments vary within and across ﬁelds of science in how they structure training programs and the quality of what they do. While successful recruits exit with the same formal credential (a doctoral degree), their actual experiences diﬀerentially prepare them to work productively and navigate successful careers. Above and beyond any eﬀects of department prestige on graduates’ careers, the nature of graduate training has far reaching implications for professional development.
3. Credentials And Certiﬁcation In The Social/Related Sciences
Credentialing generally refers to a system or process that establishes the status, legitimacy, or expertise of persons. With respect to individuals, credentials may be issued in the form of: (a) degrees, diplomas, or other certiﬁcates by educational organizations; (b) licenses regulated by states; or (c) certiﬁcates by professional associations. Institutions too are credentialed by governmental agencies (e.g., incorporation charters) or private accreditation processes (e.g., regional accreditation associations), which create standards for operation and attest to the quality of what is being oﬀered (Freidson 1986, Chap. 4).
For academic and scientiﬁc professions, university level training is key. In these professions, completion of a program of training culminating in the award of a degree is the most basic credential that attests to expertise. Credentials such as degrees formally bestow on individuals the right to practice a profession or use a professional title (Freidson 1986). The legitimacy of the degree, as Freidson pointed out, relies on the fact that educational institutions themselves are credentialed (i.e., accredited) by the state or, formally or informally, by professional associations.
In the social and behavioral sciences, the advanced degree awarded to an individual constitutes the basic professional credential. The masters degree provides a measure of stature for an individual as a professional in these sciences. While there is a growing market of interest for MA-level Social/Related scientists (especially outside of the academic workplace), the doctoral degree is still considered to be the full credential.
Psychology is the only Social/Related science discipline with a well-established process for certifying individuals beyond the advanced degree or for accrediting programs. To engage in clinical practice, psychologists need to be licensed by the states in which they intend to practice. Licensure in psychology requires demonstrating proﬁciency in designated areas and passing a standard examination created by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, an alliance of agencies across North America responsible for licensure and certiﬁcation of psychologists. In terms of accreditation, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a widely used, voluntary process for accrediting doctoral programs in the specialty areas of clinical, counseling, or school psychology programs (or combinations thereof ). Some applied or practice associations in other Social/Related science disciplines are initiating such eﬀorts (e.g., in 1995, the Society for Applied Sociology joined with the Sociological Practice Association), but none has substantially taken hold.
Despite intermittent calls within some Social/Related sciences, there has been no strong impulse to further attest to individuals’ expertise through additional credentials or certiﬁcation programs. The American Sociological Association (ASA), for example, established but quickly abandoned a certiﬁcation program for social psychologists in the early 1960s due to concerns about their certiﬁcation by APA. In 1986 and 1990, respectively, Ph.D. and MA certiﬁcation programs were launched by the ASA but generated little interest. In 1992, the ASA’s MA Certiﬁcation Program Committee expressed doubts about continuing the Program, noting that certiﬁcation of sociologists is handled through receipt of an MA or Ph.D. In 1998, the ASA Council terminated the Association’s program.
In the end, the conferral of advanced degrees through the university seems to provide a suﬃcient credential across ﬁelds of science. For each Social/Related science discipline, only a small proportion of academic departments has the authority to prepare the next generations for careers in their profession. In 1997, approximately 240 of the 4,009 institutions of higher education awarded doctorates. Except for psychology, there are only 110–50 Ph.D.-conferring programs and 90–170 MA-only programs in the social sciences (psychology, with its clinical specialty, has approximately 435 doctoral and 260 MA-only programs). Thus, while scientiﬁc professions generally do not control the market through elaborate mechanisms of certiﬁcation and accreditation, the size and structure of their educational systems aﬀect the supply of trained professionals.
4. Degree Production
4.1 BA Degrees
Undergraduate majors in Social/Related science ﬁelds constitute the potential pipeline of those who might be attracted to and eligible for becoming social and behavioral scientists. They are also an important ‘client’ group that creates demand for trained Social/Related scientists as faculty members in the academic workplace. And, ﬁnally, even with only a bachelor’s degree, they are a sector of the future workforce that may ultimately be employed in jobs classiﬁed as Social/Related science occupations (ostensibly among those that do not require more advanced expertise or skills).
Compared to mathematical, physical, and biological sciences, undergraduates declare majors in the Social/Related sciences later in their academic careers. This is primarily attributable to the scarce attention given to the Social/Related sciences as ﬁelds of science in the elementary and secondary school curricula. Therefore, many undergraduates have their ﬁrst exposure to these ﬁelds as part of fulﬁlling their general education requirements.
Despite later exposure to these ﬁelds, the social and behavioral sciences confer a substantial number of BA degrees. In 1967, even excluding psychology, there were twice as many BA degrees in the social sciences (72,398) as in the next highest ﬁeld of science and engineering (36,197 engineering BAs). By 1997, the biological/related sciences had more than doubled, but there continued to be more BA degrees conferred in the social sciences than in other ﬁelds (see S&ED 2000, Table 5).
The number of BA degrees also varies within the Social/Related sciences. A comparison of four disciplines—economics, political science, psychology, and sociology—makes the point. As shown in Table 1, in 1967 these ﬁelds attracted similar numbers of majors, but by 1997 there was much more dispersion. Most obvious is the substantial increase, almost four-fold, in the number of BA degrees in psychology between 1967 and 1997. Also, there are ﬂuctuations in levels of interest in diﬀerent disciplines at diﬀerent points in time. Over the current period—1990 to 1997 (not shown in table), sociology and psychology had the largest proportional increase in BAs (55 and 38 percent, respectively) while political science and economics conferred a declining number of degrees (about – 10 and = 30 percent, respectively). These data are based on S&ED 2000, Tables 50, 52–4.
4.2 MA And Ph.D. Degrees
As with BA production, both MA and Ph.D. production has generally increased across ﬁelds of science since the late 1960s (see S&ED 2000, Tables 12, 19). For most social and behavioral sciences, substantial growth was evident between 1967 and 1972, followed by a dip in the 1980s, and continued growth in the 1990s. At the MA level, the Social/Related sciences continued to put more MA-trained persons into the labor force than did other science and engineering ﬁelds (although there are also a substantial number of MA engineers). At the Ph.D. level, despite growth, there were also diﬀerences over time among ﬁelds. In the most recent 5-year period, doctoral degree production in the social sciences, biological sciences, and engineering continued to increase, but physical sciences and mathematical/computer sciences declined or remained level.
Within the Social/Related sciences, there were also variations in Ph.D. production by discipline (see Table 1). Between 1967 and 1997, the number of doctoral degrees awarded in psychology was substantially higher than in other disciplines in absolute numbers and in growth. In 1997, psychology conferred about 3,600 doctoral degrees, about six times more than sociology and three times more than economics (although about 35 percent of these were clinical doctorates). Because of a decline in clinical doctorates in recent years, psychology has grown only modestly over the 1990s (about 10 percent) in comparison to political science and sociology that have both increased their Ph.D. degree production by about 30 percent (based on S&ED 2000, Tables 50, 52–4).
4.3 Women And Minorities And The Ph.D. Degree
4.3.1 Gender. Since the 1960s, there has been a dramatic increase in women receiving Ph.D. degrees across all ﬁelds of science and engineering (see S&ED 2000, Tables 19, 23, 26, 35, 49–51). In 1997, 8,921 women received their Ph.D. degrees in contrast to 1,096 women in 1967. These numbers represent a substantial diﬀerence in the shares of Ph.Ds. awarded to women (32.8 percent in 1997 and 8.4 percent in 1967). Fields, however, vary considerably in the proportion of Ph.Ds. awarded to women, with the Social/Related sciences and the biological sciences conferring a much higher proportion than the physical sciences and engineering.
There are notable diﬀerences within the social and behavioral sciences as well (see S&ED 2000, Tables 50, 52–4). For example, in sociology and psychology, women received approximately 20 percent of the Ph.Ds. in 1967, and 55 and 66 percent, respectively, in 1997. In comparison, in economics and political science, even with increasing proportions of women awarded Ph.Ds., in 1997 women still received no more than about 30 percent of these degrees.
4.3.2 Race Ethinicity. The data on earned doctorates for racial and ethnic minorities were ﬁrst reported in the 1970s. By 1977, across all ﬁelds of science and engineering, the number of persons of color receiving Ph.Ds. (about 750) was quite small (see SED 1997, Table 8). In 1977, proportions of minorities receiving Ph.Ds. ranged from 5 to 7 percent in the life sciences, physical sciences, Social/Related sciences, and engineering. While the proportions of persons of color receiving Ph.Ds. increased over time, by 1997, they were still quite low—ranging from 12 to 18 percent across ﬁelds of science.
Important diﬀerences are evident among ﬁelds of science in the percentage of doctorates awarded to racial/ethnic minority groups (see SED 1997, Table 8). In 1997, in the physical sciences, Asian–Americans received the highest proportion of Ph.Ds. at over 7 percent and blacks the lowest proportion at under 2 percent. The social sciences included much higher proportions of black and Hispanic Ph.Ds. Overall, across the Social/Related sciences, somewhat more than 5 percent of the Ph.Ds. were awarded to blacks, slightly less than 5 percent to Hispanics, and slightly less than 4 percent to Asian–Americans.
There are also diﬀerences within the Social/Related sciences (see S&ED 1991, Table 3, SED 1997, Table A-2). For example, in 1997, economics and sociology awarded 28 and 25 percent, respectively, of their Ph.Ds. to racial and ethnic minorities, but varied as to which minorities received Ph.Ds. In economics, 16 percent of the Ph.Ds were awarded to Asian–Americans and 6 percent to African–Americans; in sociology, almost 10 percent were awarded to African– Americans and 6 percent to Asian–Americans. The overall small number of Ph.Ds. awarded to racial/ethnic minorities signals the need for more intentional outreach to all persons of color at earlier stages in education. Despite increases in awarding Ph.Ds., the proportion conferred to racial/ethnic minorities is still below their proportion in the US population.
5. The Social And Behavioral Science Labor Force
As noted in the introduction, the labor force includes those persons who are economically active—either employed, or, if unemployed, available for work. In 1998, according to the Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the US Census Bureau, approximately 137 million persons were active in the civilian workforce of the US, including 6 million unemployed persons. Social and behavioral science professionals constitute only a miniscule segment of this overall labor force (approximately one-half of 1 percent) if such professionals are deﬁned as persons having an advanced degrees (an MA or Ph.D.) in a Social/Related science.
5.1 Employment Status Of Social And Behavioral Scientists
The overall employment status of those with advanced degree training in the social and behavioral sciences is quite favorable. According to the National Science Foundation’s Scientists and Engineering Statistical Data System (SESTAT), there are some 656,100 Social/Related science professionals in the labor force (494,100 and 162,000 at the MA and Ph.D. levels, respectively). Employment rates for these individuals are strong. In 1997, only 0.9 percent of all Ph.Ds. and 1.8 percent of all MAs in the Social/Related sciences were unemployed (see SESTAT 1997, Table B-2).
Of the 160,500 employed Ph.Ds. with social and behavioral science training, the vast majority (87 percent) was employed full-time (see SESTAT 1997, Tables B-2 and B-5). Also, approximately 117,000 of these Ph.Ds. were employed in science and engineering occupations. This proportion (73 percent) is consistent with other ﬁelds of science (see SESTAT 1997, Table A-3). Also, as might be expected, most of these Ph.Ds. (108,000) were working directly in Social/Related science occupations.
5.2 Social And Behavioral Science Occupations And Professional Training
In terms of standard approaches, the labor force in the Social/Related sciences can be conceptualized as: (a) those persons trained in the social and behavioral sciences, or (b) those persons working in social and behavioral science occupations. In contrast to a focus on degree training per se, classiﬁcation into occupational categories includes persons trained in other ﬁelds who are working in these areas but excludes persons with relevant training who are working in other occupational areas. For example, Social/Related science occupations would include persons with Ph.Ds. in business who are teaching sociology in a university but would exclude persons with Ph.Ds. in sociology managing a business (see National Science Foundation 1999).
SESTAT classiﬁes persons into occupations in terms of both work and education. Based on the SESTAT surveys, in 1997, approximately 350,000 persons with a BA degree or higher were classiﬁed as being in a Social/Related science occupation. This occupational category includes jobs that vary widely as to the nature of the work and required expertise. As might be expected, most persons classiﬁed as working in this occupation received their highest degree in a Social/Related science (approximately 80 percent across all degree levels). Furthermore, having an advanced degree beyond the BA also matters: the vast majority of persons working in a job classiﬁed as a social/related science occupation have an advanced degree (see SESTAT 1997, Table A-3).
The value of an advanced degree can further be seen by looking at the relationship between BA, MA, or Ph.D. training in a ﬁeld and working in an occupation classiﬁed as being in that same ﬁeld (i.e., ‘in-ﬁeld’ occupation). As shown in Table 2, for all ﬁelds of science, persons at successively higher degree levels are more likely to be working in occupations classiﬁed as ‘in-ﬁeld.’ In the social and behavioral sciences, 2.6 percent of those persons with BAs was working in a Social/Related science occupation compared to 21.6 percent and 67.6 percent, respectively, of those with MA and Ph.D. degrees. By the Ph.D. level, there is also far less variability across ﬁelds of science in the proportion of persons working in ‘in-ﬁeld’ occupations.
5.3 Sectors of Employment
Examination of Ph.D.-level professionals in the social and behavioral sciences shows the centrality of the academic workplace in relation to other work sectors. Across scientiﬁc ﬁelds, more Ph.Ds. were employed by 4-year colleges and universities than by any other employment sector (in 1997, 43.4 percent for all degree ﬁelds and 47.4 percent for the Social/Related sciences). The next highest work sector for all Ph.D. ﬁelds was business at 30.5 percent overall, although not as high a proportion of social science related scientists was employed by the private sector as in other ﬁelds (see SESTAT 1997, Table C-2).
While speciﬁc disciplines within the social and behavioral sciences followed this overall pattern, there are important diﬀerences. As shown in Table 3, in 1997, a substantially greater proportion of sociologists (72 percent) than psychologists (34 percent) were employed by 4-year colleges and universities. In contrast, greater proportions of psychologists and economists were employed in the business sector. Also, for psychology, a larger proportion of Ph.Ds. is self-employed (17 percent), ostensibly due to the sizable number of psychologists who are in clinical practice.
5.4 Women And Minorities In The Social/Related Science Labor Force
5.4.1 Gender. Based on the 1997 SESTAT surveys, of the 160,500 employed Ph.Ds. with Social/Related science training, 62 percent were male and 38 percent were female (see SESTAT 1997, Table C-2). As could be anticipated from changes in the gender composition of Ph.D. degrees conferred over the years, substantially more employed female Ph.Ds. received their degrees in recent years. Of those who received their degrees 20–4 years ago, approximately 70 percent were male. In contrast, of those who received Ph.Ds. within the last 5 years, approximately 45 percent were male (see SESTAT 1997, Table C-10). This pattern holds across Social/Related science disciplines—from psychology that substantially increased in the production of female Ph.Ds. to economics that continued to produce more male Ph.Ds. (see SESTAT 1997, Table C-9).
Males and females with Ph.Ds. in the Social/Related sciences vary only modestly in terms of sectors of employment. Gender diﬀerences within disciplines are more striking than any overall trends. For example, a higher proportion of male than female economists was employed by 4-year colleges and universities (56 versus 49 percent) while a higher proportion of female than male economists was in the government sector (20 versus 12 percent) (see SESTAT 1997, Table C-2).
5.4.2 Race/Ethinicity. Of the 160,500 Ph.Ds. in the social and behavioral sciences employed in the workforce in 1997, the vast majority across Social/Related science disciplines was white (88 percent). The data on Ph.Ds. of color in the workforce are consistent with what is known about the production of minority Ph.Ds. since the mid-1970s (see SESTAT 1997, Table C–9). Of those who received their Ph.D. degrees 20– 4 years ago, 92 percent were white and 2.9, 2.5, and 1.7 percent were black, Asian-American, and His panic, respectively. In comparison, of those receiving degrees within the past 5 years, 82 percent were white and 4.4, 9.5, and 3.7 percent were black, Asian-American, and Hispanic, respectively (see SESTAT 1997, Table C-11).
The 1997 data on employment sector reveal an important diﬀerence between minority and white Ph.Ds. in the Social/Related sciences (see SESTAT 1997, Table C-4). Higher proportions of Ph.Ds. of color were employed in 4-year colleges and universities than were their white counterparts (57, 56, and 54 percent, respectively, for blacks, Asian–American, and Hispanic Ph.Ds. compared to 46 percent for white Ph.Ds.). That higher proportions of minority Ph.Ds. are employed in higher education compared to white Ph.Ds. likely reﬂects strong eﬀorts by the academic sector to diversify its workforce in the context of a very low number of Ph.Ds. of color being trained.
5.5 Current Patterns For New Ph.Ds.
Analysts examining the current employment picture for Social/Related scientists are variously optimistic, with some being quite favorable (Spalter-Roth et al. 2000) and others being more cautious (Siegfried and Stock 1999). A recent survey of graduates awarded their Ph.D. degrees between July 1996 and August 1997 provides important data. The survey focused on 14 scientiﬁc ﬁelds, including economics, political science, psychology, and sociology.
As shown in Table 4, unemployment is generally quite low for newly exiting graduates. With the exception of chemistry and political science at 4.6 and 7 percent, respectively, other disciplines were all below 4 percent. Furthermore, Ph.Ds. in the Social/Related sciences fared very well. While compared to other scientists, a somewhat higher proportion of social and behavioral scientists were employed parttime (in particular political science and psychology), a lower proportion were in temporary positions. Most striking is the relatively high proportion of Social/Related science Ph.Ds. employed in the academy, with sociology being the highest at 83 percent. Also, these data suggest a favorable academic market for Social/Related scientists. Newly minted Ph.Ds. in economics, political science, psychology, and sociology were ﬁnding employment in the academy in proportions comparable to, if not higher than, their overall presence in this sector (compare Table 3).
6. Continuing Issues For The Social And Behavioral Science Professions
For at least the next 10 years, the academic market appears to be positive. Despite the complexities of making predictions (see, e.g., Breneman 1988, Smelser and Content 1980, Schuster 1992), Bowen and Sosa (1989) anticipated these trends. In particular, the picture for Social/Related scientists is consistent with their projections of an undersupply of Ph.Ds. due to such factors as high undergraduate enrollments, stable to diminished graduate enrollments, anticipated faculty retirements, and increases in nonacademic employment. Bown and Sosa projected more demand than supply through 2007 and believed this pattern would continue, though at a slower rate.
It is important to keep in mind that the academic marketplace is broad and undergoing a restructuring. In reality, it consists of multiple and overlapping markets (e.g., research universities, liberal arts colleges) that have diﬀerent ‘buyers’ and ‘sellers’ (see Smelser and Content 1980, Schuster 1992) and that vary in prestige and mobility. Furthermore, these markets themselves are not ﬁxed. The community college, for example, is currently the fastest growing sector of academic employment. Finally, potential changes in the structure of these markets (e.g., increases in student-faculty ratios, more use of part-time or contractual teaching appointments, increased use of distance learning) could aﬀect Ph.D. shortages.
The market for Social/Related scientists outside of the academy also merits more attention. For certain disciplines, like economics and psychology, the proportions working in nonacademic settings are sizable. Furthermore, the data indicate that Social/Related scientists are increasingly located in these settings. A National Academy of Sciences report (1969) observed a slow but evident trend to greater nonacademic employment. Between 1968 and 1997, there was a 12 to 20 percent decrease in the proportion of sociologists, political scientists, economists, and psychologists employed in educational institutions. Consistent with commentators (e.g., Rosenfeld and Jones 1988, Schuster 1992) noting a ‘pull’ not a ‘push’ to these work sectors, the steady increases in nonacademic employment seem to occur irrespective of the tightness of academic markets.
As the social and behavioral sciences move into their second century as professions, the overall environment for these ﬁelds is currently strong. The challenges before them, however, are also many. They are at a juncture where their ambitions could enlarge and these professions could grow to address some of the most challenging issues of human behavior and society. How they organize themselves and their work and how they prepare their next generations for contributing knowledge and expertise will, more than any other factors, shape what these professions are and become.
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