For the fourth year in a row, the number of students earning PhDs in psychology has decreased, according to the federal "Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities" report, which offers data on most 2002 PhD recipients. In fact, since 1998 the number of psychology PhDs awarded has dropped about 13 percent, from 3,676 to 3,199, the survey found.

The figures reflect a larger trend in higher education: The total number of PhDs awarded in the United States has dropped 6.3 percent since an all-time high of 42,652 in 1998.

However, APA's own survey of PhD and PsyD doctorates--Graduate Study in Psychology--shows a slightly different pattern, says Jessica Kohout, PhD, director of APA's research office. That study found a decrease in the number of degrees earned from 1999 to 2001, but an increase in 2002.

The number of PhD degrees granted has varied more while the number of PsyD degrees has remained stable or increased, she notes.

"Some of this variability in both the national and APA numbers may be due to actual decreases in the numbers of students seeking PhDs in psychology as well as a structural shift within graduate education in psychology, such that increasingly the professional schools are offering the PsyD rather than the PhD," Kohout explains. "Any discussion of trends of course needs to take a long view as numbers can vary from year to year but may not indicate any permanent shift."

The report, which spans nearly every doctoral discipline, is compiled by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago in partnership with the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Education, National Endowment for the Humanities, Department of Agriculture and NASA.

For 2002 psychology PhDs, the largest portion of degrees went to clinical psychologists, who accounted for almost 38 percent of the doctorates. They were followed by counseling psychologists at 15 percent, social psychologists at 6 percent, and developmental and child psychologists at 5 percent--a pattern similar to 1992's psychology doctorate recipients--longstanding patterns in the field, notes Kohout.

Among other psychology-related data from the report:

* About 67 percent of 2002 psychology PhDs were women, continuing the trend of a majority of women in the field over the past 20 to 25 years. For 2002 doctorate recipients in all fields, 45 percent were women.

* Approximately 19 percent of 2002 psychology PhDs were minorities--about 7 percent Hispanic, 6 percent black, 4 percent Asian and 2 percent American Indian, Alaskan Native, Pacific Islander and other races or ethnicities. Those figures are about on par with the national average. Across all disciplines, about 18 percent of 2002 doctorate recipients were minority--roughly 7 percent black, 5 percent Asian, 5 percent Hispanic and 2 percent American Indian, Alaskan Native, Pacific Islander and other races or ethnicities.

* The median age of psychology PhDs was 32.1 years old--about a year less than the all-discipline median of 33.3 years old.

* 2002 psychology PhDs spent a median 7.3 years getting their doctorate; they earned the degree a median 9.2 years after receiving a bachelor's degree. Across all disciplines, the medians were 7.5 years in earning the degree and 10.5 years from finishing the bachelor's degree. However, the time to completion varies by psychology subfield, Kohout notes.

* 56 percent of psychology PhDs had employment plans; 25 percent planned to work for an educational institution--a college, university, medical school, or elementary or secondary school; 13 percent in industry or business; 7 percent in government; 8 percent in nonprofit; and about 3 percent in other and unknown areas.

* 32 percent planned to undertake postdoctoral study; of those, 75 percent planned to take a research fellowship.

* 64 percent had a bachelor's degree in psychology, and 76 percent held a master's degree.

Further Reading

The report is available at www.norc.uchicago.edu/issues/docdata.htm.