January 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 1

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Comparative Years to Degree for Social Science PhDs

ASA Research and Development Department

How long does it take to get a PhD degree in Sociology?  According to recent data from the National Science Foundation (see www.nsf.gov/statistics/sed/data_table.cfm), the average for all social science fields is 7.7 years from the start of graduate school. There is noteworthy variation among social science fields, however. Graduate students in psychology and economics who complete their PhDs, take the least time to complete their degrees—6.9 years and 7 years, respectively. With the exception of anthropology, sociology graduate students spend the most years completing their doctoral degrees (10 years and 8.8 years, respectively). As a result, new sociology PhDs have a somewhat higher median age than other degree recipients at 33.3 years of age, while new anthropology PhDs, at 34.9 years of age, are the oldest completers (the median age for all social science completers is 32.4). Part of the reason for sociologists taking longer to complete their degree may be that a significantly smaller percent completed their baccalaureate degree in the same field as their doctorate (38.8 percent compared to 63.6 percent in psychology and 57.7 percent in economics). Another possible reason is that sociology has the highest percentage of students who complete master’s degrees (91.2 percent compared to 81.2 percent for psychologists and 80.6 percent for economists). Obtaining this interim degree probably stretches the time to PhD.

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