1999: Doctorate Employment Survey

Jessica Kohout and Marlene Wicherski
APA Center for Workforce Studies
January 2003
Report Text

The Doctorate Employment Survey (DES) was conducted on an annual basis between 1975 and 1985. Beginning in 1987, the decision was made to move the survey to a biennial schedule. The data on which this report is based were collected in 2000 from the 1999 doctorate recipients in psychology.


The Doctorate Employment Survey (DES) is conducted during the year following receipt of the degree. Graduate department chairs are contacted for the names and addresses of persons awarded doctorates during the previous year. A questionnaire is mailed to these individuals requesting information on their experiences entering the psychology labor force and the relevance of their graduate training to their employment situation.

In September and October 1999, the chairs of 470 doctorate-granting departments in the United States and Canada were contacted and asked to provide the names and addresses of individuals who had received their doctorates between July 1, 1998 and June 30, 1999.  The list of departments is compiled from the APA publication Graduate Study in Psychology (1998), the APA Research Office's file of psychology-related graduate departments, and the membership list of the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology.  The 326 (69.4%) responding departments provided the names and addresses of 4,063 new psychologists.  Included in their lists were 3,015 PhDs; 999 PsyDs, and 46 EdDs. Three names were not assigned a degree type and were from departments with multiple degree programs.  Based on available data (i.e., responses to the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates (NORC, 1999)), it was possible to determine that departments provided the names and addresses of 82.2% of the PhDs awarded in psychology.  The 999 names and addresses of PsyD recipients represented about 91% of the total count for 1998-99.  It does appear then that the pool of survey recipients was representative of the majority of doctorates awarded in psychology in 1998-1999.

The questionnaire was mailed to each of the doctorate recipients in January 2000 (The appendix (PDF, 657KB) of this report contains a copy of the questionnaire).  Of the 4,063 survey recipients, 158 indicated that they had not received their doctorates in the 1998-99 academic year.  Another 12 (0.2%) were returned as undeliverable. Nonrespondents were sent reminder postcards in early April 2000 and a complete set of materials was sent May 19, 2000 to those who still had not responded.

A total of 2,099 useable questionnaires were returned, yielding an overall response rate of 51.7%. Response rates differed based on the type of doctorate awarded; approximately 52.9% of PhDs, 51.0% of PsyDs, and 30.4% of EdDs responded. The level of participation was about the same as in 1997, when it was 51.9%.

Demographic Characteristics

Table 1 (PDF, 13KB) indicates that 70% of responding new doctorates were women, an increase of 18 percentage points in 18 years (In 1981, the proportion of women among graduates was 52%). As in other science and engineering fields, women have been entering psychology in increasing numbers over the past several decades. At the same time, the numbers of men in psychology have been decreasing slightly. The representation of women among DES respondents is slightly higher than the 66.7% reported for new PhDs by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1999.

Just over 83% of respondents were white. Hispanics comprised just under 5% of the new doctorates while Asians represented 4.6%, and 3.5% were African Americans. Native Americans and "other" each represented less than 1% of the sample, while those who specified multiple race/ethnicity were just over 1% of respondents. One and a half percent of respondents did not specify a racial/ethnic category.  Of the 100 respondents who identified themselves as Hispanic, 34% were of Mexican heritage, 23% were Puerto Rican, 42% were from a different Hispanic group, and approximately 1% did not specify. Over the past decade the proportion of ethnic minority doctorate recipients has edged up from almost 7% in the 1985 survey to about 17% in 1999. Generally, the different racial/ethnic groups had similar gender distributions (about 2/3 female and 1/3 male). Blacks however had a noticeably higher representation of women than men (88% vs. 12%).

About 58% of the respondents were younger than 35, with an additional 24% between 35 and 44 years of age. Fifteen percent were 45 to 59 years old and less than one percent was 60 years or older. The average age of respondents was 34.8 roughly equal to the mean ages for recent years. The median age at doctorate was 33, which is slightly higher than the median age at doctorate (32.3) reported by the NSF for new PhDs in 1999.

Sexual Orientation
Almost 93% of the respondents stated that they were heterosexual. Five and a half percent were homosexual and 1.3% responded that they were bisexual. Less than one percent claimed an other orientation.

Degree Type
Just over 3/4 of the respondents earned a PhD, almost one fourth was awarded a PsyD (compared to 8% in 1985), while less than 1% reported earning the EdD in 1999. Table 2 (PDF, 13KB) depicts additional data on educational characteristics of new doctorates.

Employment Status
Two thirds of the new doctorates were employed full time, about 10% were employed part time, 17% were working on postdoctorates, almost 3% were unemployed and seeking employment, and 2.6% were unemployed and not seeking employment. During the past ten years the proportion working full time has declined steadily (from 80% in 1985 and 75% in 1991 to 1999's low of 67%), while the proportion working part time has increased slightly from 7% in 1985 to 10% in 1999. During the past decade the numbers of new psychology doctorates in postdoctorate positions has risen from 10% in 1985 to 17% in 1999. This increase might be attributed in part to changes in the instrument; the section on postdoctorates is now more amenable to describing pre-licensure training for clinical doctorate recipients. But the shift away from full-time employment toward postdoctoral fellowships is also apparent among graduates in traditional research and other specialties. Since the mid 1980s, the percentages in postdoctoral training have climbed steadily among new doctorates in these subfields to the point that in 1999 they represented just under 18% of the total in the research subfields and about 29% of all postdoctorates. Full-time employment among research doctorate recipients was around 68% in 1999, down slightly from the 72% reported in 1997. NSF data also point to growth in the proportion of new psychology doctorates pursuing postdoctoral study (Coyle & Bae, 1987; Henderson et al, 1998; Sanderson et al, 2000; Thurgood and Weinman, 1991) from 18% in 1986 to 20% in 1990, to 24% in 1997, and almost 26% by 1999, supporting the validity of the apparent trend.

Most respondents (72%) were employed in their current primary position within 3 months of completing the degree. Twenty-three percent of these new doctorates found employment before completion, while 42% found work within three months of completion, and only (7%) had the job when they started the program. Comparisons of the amount of time to find human service positions versus other types of positions, presented in Table 5 (PDF, 17KB), showed that the new doctorates in non-health-service provider positions appeared to take somewhat longer to find work than did those in the health service areas. Specifically, proportions taking 6 months or more to find work were substantively higher in research fields than those graduating in the practice fields.

Men were more likely than women to be employed full time (75% vs. 64%), while a larger proportion of women were employed part time (13% vs. 4%). When asked for a reason for choosing part-time employment, 49% of women vs. 4% of men cited family responsibilities and 99% of those offering this reason were women. Men were more apt than women to state that they could not find a suitable full-time job or that they preferred a broader range of responsibilities (44% vs. 23% and 36% vs. 13%, respectively) See Table 1 (PDF, 13KB).

Minorities were somewhat more likely to be employed full time compared to whites (73% vs. 66%). Blacks reported the highest rate of full-time employment at 81%. About three fourths of Asians and American Indians were employed full time, while 2/3 of Hispanics, whites and others chose full-time status. Sixty percent of those with multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds reported full-time employment. The highest rate of postdoctoral study was reported by Native Americans (22%), but the number on which this percentage is based is very small. This year the percentage of Hispanic respondents reporting postdoctoral study rose only slightly to 18%, compared to 4% in 1986, 7% in 1991 and 19% in 1995. The proportions with full-time employment have declined steadily over the decade across all racial/ethnic groups, while proportions in part-time employment and postdoctorate positions have increased.

Although unemployment remains low among new psychologists, the proportion of new doctorates that were unemployed and seeking employment (2.7%) has risen slowly from 1.6% in 1985. Less than 3% reported being unemployed but not seeking employment. The largest proportion of this group (65%) cited home/child care responsibilities for their decision, and the vast majority of responses to this question came from women (94%).

Subfield of Degree
Table 2 (PDF, 13KB) presents the employment status for graduates of the various types of doctoral programs. The rates of full-time employment, part-time employment, postdoctoral involvement, and unemployment did not vary substantially for graduates from the health service provider and the research subfields when considered in the aggregate. However, when we consider specific subfields, it is obvious that there is variability. Less than 40% of clinical neuropsychology doctorates were employed full time at the time of the study while almost half held postdoctorates. Three fourths of the new doctorates in counseling were employed full time with less than a tenth in postdoctoral positions. I/O graduates were far more likely to be employed full time than to be in postdoctorates positions (88% vs. 3%) while the reverse is true of those in neuroscience (37% vs. 53%). This variability highlights the different patterns of work and training in the across the subfields of psychology. In spite of the overall growth in postdoctorates across psychology, clear contrasts emerge when programs focussing on the biological basis of behavior (e.g., physiological and neuroscience) are examined separately from other research psychology fields (e.g., developmental and social). The postdoctoral fellowship could be called a "necessary" step for the biologically based areas. Fifty-one percent of respondents in these subfields were engaged in postdoctoral study in 1999, compared to only 14% in the remaining research fields. This represents a continued need for postdoctoral training, especially for graduates in the bio-based cluster, where the proportion in such training was at 41% in 1986 and 49% in 1991.

Across all subfields the level of unemployment remains low, with little difference between psychologists trained to deliver health services and those in research specialties. Very small numbers impede detailed interfield comparisons.

Perceptions of the Job Market
Data on job market perceptions appeared to be somewhat skewed in 1996 due to the placement of this question among those to be completed only by those who were employed. Responses were far more positive than they had been when all respondents answered this item. For this reason, the data from 1996 were not compared with those from earlier years. In 1997, the question was returned to that section of the questionnaire to be answered by all respondents. The results were not as expected. Responses remained on an upswing and this continued into 1999. Forty-seven percent of the respondents reported a "good" or "excellent" perception of the job market. This is an increase of 24 percentage points from 1995 but is still far less than the 52% who reported such perceptions in 1989. It may be that the decrease in perceptions in the early 1990s was the result of a combination of a sagging economy and beginning structural shifts in both practice and academe, which have resulted in less autonomy and greater uncertainty for psychologists regardless of setting and training. The "improvement" in perceptions may be due more to perceived improvements in the general economy than to any improvement in the actual practice or academic milieus for psychologists, both of which still appear to be in flux. Not surprisingly, perceptions varied by employment status, with those employed full time more apt to respond positively. Percentages responding positively tend to decrease as one moves from full time to part time to postdoctorate to unemployed and seeking. The group that was unemployed and not seeking responded similarly to those who were employed full time. For example, fully half of those employed full time responded positively compared to 40% of those employed part time, 43% of postdoctorates and 17% of those who were unemployed and seeking.

Employment Patterns
Full-time employment was characterized as a minimum of 35 hours a week in the present survey, including situations where the person held multiple jobs totaling 35 or more hours. Part-time-employed persons were those who held one or more part-time positions totaling less than 35 hours (See Table 3 (PDF, 17KB)).

Of the 1,616 respondents for whom employment information was available, 63 % (1,014) were employed full time in one job only (they did not have a second or third position), while 9% (147) worked part time in one job only. Twenty-eight percent (453) of employed respondents were working more than one job in 1999.

Almost 55% of those working more than one position held a full-time position and a part-time position. Thirty-two percent were employed full time but in more than one part-time position. Finally, 14% of those with more than one position were employed part time in two or more part-time jobs.

Employment Settings

Full-time Employment
Table 3 (PDF, 17KB) presents data on the employment settings of the respondents by type of employment pattern. Overall, the leading category of primary full-time setting was business, government, and other settings at 19%, followed by university settings at 18%. Almost 14% with a full-time position were working in organized health care settings such as university counseling centers, rehabilitation facilities and outpatient clinics, and just fewer than 13% could be found in hospitals. Just over 11% reported working in managed care settings, most of which were CMHC arrangements.

Forty four percent of full-time positions were in the human service sector, nearly 28% in academia, almost 19% in business, government, and other settings, and 9% in schools and other educational settings. Most of those employed in full-time human service positions worked in organized care settings rather than individual or group private practices (38% versus 6%). This pattern is appropriate for new doctorates that have yet to accumulate the hours to sit for licensure.

Approximately 30% of respondents who reported working in both a full-time position and secondary employment chose a part-time independent practice. About 36% chose a higher education position (e.g., university, college, and community college) as their secondary position. Percentages choosing managed care settings and business, government and other settings decreased from 1997.

Doctorates employed full time as the result of two or more part-time positions were located most often in independent practices (21%), other human service settings (16%), and university settings (14%) as their primary employment positions. Most secondary settings for this group were in independent practice (22%), universities (21%), and other human service settings (16%).

Part-time Employment
Table 3 (PDF, 17KB) also provides information on those who were employed part time (those with one or more positions totaling less than 35 hours). Fifty percent indicated their primary setting was in the human service sector (18% in independent practice). Forty-six percent of those with a secondary job were in human service settings.

Respondents working part time were asked why they chose to do so. As in previous surveys, reasons tended to vary by sex. Women were much more likely than were men to name family responsibilities (49% vs. 4%). Both sexes stated that they could not find an appropriate full-time job (44% of men and 23% of women). Thirty-six percent of men and almost 13% of the women cited the broad range of responsibilities that comes with one or more part-time positions.

Full-time Employment Settings by Subfield
In Table 4 (PDF, 17KB), data are presented on full-time employment settings by field of psychology. Business, government and other settings claimed the single largest proportion of new doctorates (almost 19%, overall), edging out university settings at 18%, other human service settings (14%), and hospitals (just under 13%). Managed care followed at almost 12%.

The broad category of human service settings predominated as the primary employer of new doctorates in the practice fields at 44% of all full-time employed doctorates, with other human service settings slightly ahead at almost 19%, followed by hospitals (e.g., rehabilitation centers or nursing homes) at 17%, and managed care settings at 16%. The 1999 data continued a pattern of decreasing proportions of new doctorates in the health service provider subfields entering hospital settings (26% in 1991, decreasing to 17% by 1999). The single largest proportion of doctorate recipients in the field of school psychology (almost 58%) was found in schools and other educational settings. Clinical and counseling doctorates were found distributed across all the human service settings.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents graduating in research subfields were employed in universities; while a substantial number (34%) indicated that they had found work in business, government and other settings. Almost 28% of those in business, government and other settings had received their degrees in the fields of industrial/organizational psychology, while 14% each had earned degrees in social psychology or experimental psychology. Twelve percent were graduates in developmental psychology. At least half the doctorates in biological, cognitive, comparative, developmental, experimental, neurosciences, psychometrics, and social psychology could be found in university or four-year college settings. This is true also of many of the other bio-based doctorates but the Ns are so small the percentages are very high and misleading. Graduates in these fields also were found in business and government settings. However, data on full-time employment settings do not represent many new bio-based doctorates, given that the majority finds postdoctoral training necessary before securing full-time employment.

Twenty-seven percent of graduates in industrial/organizational psychology were employed in university settings in 1999 with just under 66% in business, government and other settings.

One third of graduates in industrial/organizational psychology were employed in university settings with fifty-nine percent in business, government and other settings.

Job Satisfaction
Table 5 (PDF, 17KB) reports responses of employed 1999 doctorate recipients in terms of their satisfaction with selected elements of their job, commensurability of the job with their training, and the importance of the doctorate in obtaining employment.

Importance of the Doctoral Degree
For 52% of the respondents, the doctoral degree was an essential tool in attaining their present position; another 29% deemed it helpful. Again, about half the respondents rated the doctorate in psychology essential, while one third said it was helpful. A smaller proportion of respondents in health service delivery positions found the doctoral degree to be essential than did those in research or academic positions (45% vs. 61%). Interestingly, the situation was reversed when respondents rated the psychology doctorate specifically, and the gap narrowed: 54% of health service providers judged the psychology degree essential, compared to 45% of those working in other positions.

Commensurability of Employment
Overall, seventy three percent of respondents indicated that their primary position was their first choice. About one fourth of the respondents in the human services would have preferred a different position. Fourteen percent mentioned a different employer and 11% mentioned a different type of position. Almost 29% of those in non-practice positions stated a preference for a change. Just under one tenth chose a new employer while 18% went with a new type of position, most often a faculty position. The health service providers were more interested in changing employers than in changing what they were doing while the reverse was true for those in non-practice positions.

Seventy-two percent indicated that their general graduate training was closely related to their current employment. Sixty-nine percent stated that courses in the major subfield were closely related. Doctorate recipients working in human service positions were somewhat more likely to describe coursework in their major specialty area as being closely related to their current employment than those working in other positions (75% vs. 69%, respectively). Research and teaching assistantships were far less frequently deemed closely related to current employment by the health service providers (6% and 4%, respectively) than was the case for those in research and academic positions (34% and 31%, respectively). Not surprisingly, predoctoral internships with a clinical focus were deemed closely related by a majority of respondents in the human service positions (80%). Other practicum or internship experiences were also more highly valued by those in health service provider settings than was true of those in research or academic positions. Fully 70% of health service providers versus 43% of those in the research or academic areas found these experiences closely or somewhat related.

When asked if the employment position was related to the field of study, 78% of those in human services strongly agreed compared to 58% of those in other positions. The pattern of response to the question on whether or not the job was commensurate with level of training was almost identical across human service positions and research and academic positions (78% in each type agreed that the position was commensurate with the level of training). When asked whether their current position was similar to what they expected to be doing when they began doctoral study, noticeably smaller proportions of those in research or academic positions indicated that their expectations had matched reality (49% of health service provider vs. 60% research/academic agreed). Finally, in spite of the mismatch between expectations and reality, majorities in each type of position agreed that their positions were professionally challenging (82% health services and 79% research/academic).

Satisfaction with Current Position
Most new doctorates appeared to be fairly satisfied with their current positions. With the exception of opportunities for promotion and salary, seventy percent or more of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with benefits, opportunities for personal development and recognition, supervisors, colleagues and working conditions. The highest levels of job satisfaction across the board were derived from co-workers (where applicable), and working conditions. These aspects have received uniformly high ratings from respondents each year the survey has measured them.

Areas of disagreement between practitioners and other respondents were salary, benefits, opportunities for recognition and for personal development, and working conditions. In general, those in human service positions were noticeably more likely than those in non-practitioner positions to express dissatisfaction in these areas. Seventy-three percent indicated that their current position was their first choice. Respondents in human services positions who indicated that their current position was not their first choice were about evenly split between changing employers versus switching to an alternate type of position. The situation was more clear-cut among those in non-practice positions, for whom the preference was for a different type of position, most often, a faculty position.

Obtaining Employment
Just over 30% of the new doctorates were in their present employment position prior to completing graduate school, while an additional 42% obtained employment within three months of completing the doctoral program. Those in human service positions tended to find work more quickly than those in other positions (larger proportions of those in other positions took more than 6 months to find their current primary employment). Other positions include the academic, research and business settings.

Job search strategies most often used by new doctorates included informal channels (74%), classified ads in a newspaper (38%) or the APA Monitor (40%), faculty advisors (30%), sending unsolicited vitae (21%), electronic resources (20%), and Chronicle of Higher Education advertisements (15%). See Table 5 (PDF, 17KB). The most successful method, regardless of type of position, remains informal channels (34%), including colleagues, professors and friends. Newspaper ads were the second most popular avenue with both those in human service settings, and in other settings.

Postdoctoral Study

Almost 39% of the 1999 doctorate recipients indicated that they were pursuing or had completed postdoctorate study. Seventeen percent were current at the time the survey was conducted, while 22% had already completed their postdoctorates. Doctorate Employment Survey data have shown a steady increase in postdoctorates since 1985, at which time approximately one out of ten new doctorates pursued postdoctoral training. Almost 85% of the postdoctorates were full time.

Demographic characteristics of postdoctorates can be found in Table 1 (PDF, 13KB). The ethnic profile is about the same as it has been in recent years. Eighty-four percent of those still primarily engaged in postdoctoral studies at the time of the survey were white. Approximately 4% were Asian and 5% were Hispanic, 3% were African American, and less than one percent were Native American. Some 1% indicated multiple racial/ethnic categories. Women comprised 70% of the postdoctorate population. Seventy four percent were less than 35 years of age and the mean age reflects this relative youth (32.8) in relation to the overall mean of 34.9.

Table 2 (PDF, 13KB) addresses the doctoral education of respondents currently in postdoctoral training. Seventy-eight percent had earned a PhD compared to 23% with a PsyD. Up from 1997, 70% of the respondents had received their doctorates in the health service provider subfields, while 30% were in the traditional research fields. Clinical postdoctorates represented almost 80% of the postdoctorates in a practice subfield and less than one fifth of the clinical degrees. Seventeen percent of the new doctorates in service delivery subfields were in postdoctorate positions compared to 18% of those in research and other subfields.

More respondents reported current and completed postdoctorate experiences emphasizing service delivery than research training. Almost 58% focused on clinical service, 25% on research, and 15% on a combination of the two. More research postdoctorates (94%) were full time compared to 80% of those with a health service focus.

The remainder of this section explores in more depth such aspects of the full-time fellowship as length of appointment and sources of support. Also addressed are the reasons respondents pursued postdoctoral studies.

Length of Postdoctoral Appointments

The majority of full-time postdoctoral training in service delivery (75%) was between one and two years in duration, with fully 61% at one year. Research postdoctorates tended to be longer in duration with only 27% of research postdoctorates reporting fellowships between one and two years. Forty-two percent of research postdoctorates were two years long compared to 13% of those with a service delivery focus. Twenty percent of postdoctorates with a research focus were longer than two years compared to less than 2% of those with a service focus. The average duration of a research postdoctorate was reported as 22 months compared to 14 months for those with a service delivery focus and 17 months for those with a combined research/practice focus.

Reasons for Postdoctoral Study

Table 6 (PDF, 10KB) reports the reasons doctorate recipients cited for taking a full-time postdoctoral fellowship. The top reason among respondents whose fellowships emphasized research was to complement their research knowledge and skills in the same field as their doctorate (31%), while another ¼ sought to become more employable, followed by a fifth who were interested primarily in obtaining research knowledge or training in another subfield

The single most important impetus for those in postdoctoral study focussing on clinical service delivery was to obtain supervised experience so as to be eligible to take the licensing exam (59%), followed, at some distance, by obtaining specialized clinical training (28%). Respondents engaged in postdoctoral study with a dual research/practice focus sought to obtain supervised postdoctoral hours in preparation for the licensing exam (30%) and to obtain specialized clinical training (25%).

As Table 6 (PDF, 10KB) suggests, improving employability (24% vs. 5%) and lack of available employment (9% vs. 2%) remain more salient to those with postdoctoral appointments in research training than those in clinical service. Responses to this question have remained fairly constant since 1985 and appear to indicate a somewhat less optimistic employment situation for this specific group.

Respondents were also given the opportunity to name all the reasons for accepting a postdoctoral appointment. For research postdoctorates, common reasons included increased employability (81%), to complement research knowledge and skills in the same subfield of the doctorate (70%), to work with a particular scientist and research group (60%). In contrast, the postdoctorates with a service delivery focus were more apt to seek out supervised postdoctoral hours to prepare for the licensing exam (92%), to obtain specialized clinical training (74%), and to become more employable (68%). Those with a combined research/practice focus most often chose increasing employability (83%), followed by obtaining supervised postdoctoral hours to take the licensing exam (81%), complementing research knowledge and skills in the same field as the doctorate (76%), and obtaining specialized clinical training (74%).

Source and Level of Support for Postdoctoral Training

The vast majority of postdoctoral fellows (almost 90%) received stipends in 1999. Research fellowships were rarely unpaid; only 1% of respondents who were gaining additional research training received no stipend. Looked at another way, 99% of the research postdoctorates were paid compared to 85% of those training for service delivery. Overall, those in unpaid positions were more apt to be part-time postdoctorates than those in paid positions (36% vs. 11%). Still, over half of respondents (64%) without a stipend reported that the position was 35 or more hours per week.

The largest proportion of paid full-time research postdoctorates depended on federal fellowships or training grants followed by federal research grants and by university and college sources. The stipends of health service postdoctorates were funded most often by miscellaneous sources such as hospital or clinic funds, followed by client fees and university or college sources. Those with a combined research/practice focus reported depending on university and college fees, followed by federal research grants and by federal fellowship or training grants. Overall, stipends were supported, in descending order, by other sources including hospital/clinic funds, university/college sources, federal fellowships, client fees, federal research grants, nonfederal fellowships, and Canadian fellowships.

Analyses of levels of support for full-time positions revealed differences in levels of support by primary emphasis of fellowship. Just short of 2/3 of the research postdoctorates reported monthly stipends between $2,000 and $3,000 (mean of $2,245), while just over half of those with a service focus indicated that their monthly stipends fell between $1,000 and $2,000 (mean of $1,845). About 46% of those with a combined focus reported monthly stipends between one and two thousand dollars while another 41% stated that they were paid two to three thousand dollars a month. (Mean of $1,978). The highest awards overall were Canadian fellowships ($2,258 in Canadian dollars) followed by federal research grants ($2,181). Federal fellowships or training grants provided the lowest level of funding, at a median of $2,103 per month.

Sources and Levels of Support for Doctoral Study

Table 7 (PDF, 10KB) presents data on all sources of financial support and the primary source of support used for the predoctoral training of 1999 doctorate recipients. In 1996, the Association altered the survey question to reflect sources of support more generally. APA's data have followed paths similar to those noted below in the NSF data. They indicate that federal sources have slipped as a primary source of support for psychology graduate students and that to compensate for these shrinking resources, students have had to look elsewhere, to personal resources, student loans and university sources of support. In 1979, Federal sources of support accounted for 23%. In 1991 this had fallen to 4%. By 1999, only 7% of new doctorates reported using grants (primarily Federal) as a primary source of support. University resources comprised 31% of the primary support in 1999, with loans at 32%. The data indicate a continuing reliance on sources that represent the potential for increasing student debt loads and financial hardship.

National Science Foundation data confirm that sources of support have shifted slightly away from Federal funds to personal or family sources in the past two decades. In 1979, NSF data indicated that some 17% of full-time psychology graduate students in doctorate-granting institutions relied primarily on federal sources of support. By 1999, this was at 11%. At the same time, the percentages relying primarily on university sources of support (e.g., research or teaching assistantships) have increased from 36% in 1979 to 42% in 1999. Those relying on self-support had inched up from 41% in 1979 to 43% in 1999 (NSF, 1984; NSF, 2001).

The new doctorates' responses to a question about all sources of support underscored the heavy reliance on personal sources of support for graduate training. Fully 87% of the respondents used own or family resources. Sixty nine percent received some support from university-based resources. Student loans were a source of support for 66% of the respondents (up from 60% in 1997). Finally, 30% had received federal grant support at some point during their graduate training.

Sources of support were analyzed by various demographic and educational factors. First, with the exception of Asians, minority graduates were slightly less likely to have used personal resources during their training. Indeed, 27% of the white doctorate recipients who specified a primary source of support chose personal resources, while 19% of minorities did so. At the same time, minorities were only slightly more likely to have received any university support. They were however, noticeably more apt to have used grants (14% vs. 6%).

The analyses of sources of support by degree type continue to underscore the differential debt levels being assumed by graduates seeking PhDs vs. PsyDs. The largest single proportion of PhD students indicated that they relied primarily upon university sources of support (41%), with a little over one fifth using loans and almost one fourth using own resources. PsyD graduates presented a different picture with less than 2% using university sources of support, 62% relying on loans and 30% using own or family support. Admittedly, some of these differences are the result of the different educational settings in which the two degrees are offered but this does not lessen the consequences for the graduates of the various programs.

The data also revealed variation across broad subfield, with graduates in research and other fields relying most heavily upon university assistantships (52%), with own or family resources a far second at 17%. Loans were employed primarily by 14% and grants by just under 12%. The picture is different for the graduates in the health service provider subfields where we find that only 22% used assistantships primarily, turning instead to loans (39%) and own or family earnings (29%).

Debt Levels of New Doctorates by Subfield

As can be seen in Table 8 (PDF, 9KB) and Table 9 (PDF, 10KB), over two thirds of the 1999 doctorates reported some level of debt upon receipt of the doctoral degree (69%). There were noticeable subfield differences; with almost 74% of new doctorates in the practice subfields reporting any debt compared to 57% of those in the research subfields. Graduates in clinical neuropsychology reported the highest proportion with debt (86%). Although other subfields in the practice areas did report debt, in some cases the small Ns in these subfields render interpretation difficult. However, as will become evident, many new doctorates in the practice subfields have assumed debt and at very high levels. Ten percent of new doctorates in the research subfields owed $5,000 or less related to their graduate education; the comparable percent for the practice graduates was just 5%. At the high end of the scale, over half of the new doctorates in the practice subfields owed more than $30,000. Forty-two percent of these have debt in excess of $50,000. In contrast 35% of new doctorates in the research subfields owed more than $30,000 and of these, just fewer than 17% have debts greater than $50,000. The median level of debt for those in the practice subfields was $42,000 compared to $23,500 for those in the research subfields.

Debt levels analyzed by field and type of degree revealed some interesting differences. A graduate with a PsyD in Clinical psychology reported a median debt level of $70,000. The Clinical PhD reported a median level of debt of $32,000. Graduates with PhDs in the research subfields had markedly lower median levels of debt by comparison ($20,000 across all research subfields). These debts have real implications for productivity and lifetime earnings among substantial segments of the doctoral population in psychology. Although debt levels may be lower for those in the research fields and for those earning PhDs, it is important to add that debt levels increased in 1999 for practice and research graduates alike. It is important to disseminate this information to students who may be considering a career in psychology - so that their decisions can be fully informed.

Salaries of New Doctorates by Positions and Settings

Table 11 (PDF, 13KB) presents the salaries of full-time-employed U.S.- resident new doctorates by employment position and setting. No statistics are provided where there are fewer than ten respondents in an employment setting. Caution should be exercised in interpreting those statistics based on small numbers or where the standard deviation is large. Salaries for direct human service settings are presented separately for subfields with ten or more constituents reporting salaries. Salaries are reported on a 9-10-month basis for faculty positions (with the exception of medical school faculty) and for direct human service positions in school settings. These can be converted to 11-12-month salaries by multiplying by 11/9.

The overall median starting salary in 1999 was $38,000 with an average of $46,348 and a standard deviation of $36,250. The highest median 11-12-month salaries were reported by doctorates in applied psychology settings ($67,000), particularly those working in business or industry ($71,000). The highest median 9-10-month salaries were reported by doctorates in school psychology ($45,500) delivering services in elementary or secondary schools. In general, applied and administrative positions were characterized by higher salaries in contrast to other positions. Definitions of the position types used in the survey are contained in the instrument, which can be found in the appendix (PDF, 657KB). In all cases it behooves the job seeker to obtain as much information as possible about the salaries that are being paid or earnings reported and how these might vary by specific tasks and also by factors such as geographic location. Cost of living can have a tremendous effect on actual earnings.

Salaries paid to minority and nonminority new doctorates were generally comparable with a few exceptions. It is important to note that the small number of minority doctorates in some employment settings precludes extensive or reliable comparisons. Median salaries reported by minority doctorates in university settings and other academic settings were higher than those reported by nonminority doctorates. The reverse is true for those in medical schools and independent practice settings where earnings reported by nonminority doctorates were higher than those reported by minority graduates.


Burrelli, J. (1999). Graduate students and postdoctorates in science and engineering: Fall 1997. (NSF 99-325). Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.

Coyle, S. & Bae, Y. (1987). Summary report 1986: Doctorate recipients from United States universities.

National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 1999. Detailed Statistical Tables. http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/nsf01315/pdfstart.htm

Kohout, J. & Wicherski, M. (1991). 1989 Doctorate employment survey. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Kohout, J. & Wicherski, M. (1993). 1991 Doctorate employment survey. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Kohout, J., Wicherski, M., & Woerheide, K. (1999). 1996 Doctorate employment survey. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Thurgood, D.H. & Weinman, J. (1991). Summary report 1990: Doctorate recipients from United States universities. National Research Council. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

National Science Foundation (1991). Academic science and engineering: graduate enrollment and support: 1989. (NSF 90-324). Washington, DC. Author.

NSF/NIH/NEH/USDoE/USDA (1998). Survey of earned doctorates, prepublication tables from the summary report 1997, doctorate recipients from United States universities. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.

Pion, G., & Wicherski, M. (1989). Selected tables: 1986 doctorate employment survey. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pion, G., Bramblett, J.P. & Wicherski, M. (1987). Preliminary report: 1985 doctorate employment survey. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Wicherski, M. & Kohout, J. (1997). 1995 Doctorate employment survey. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Wicherski, M. & Kohout, J. (1995). 1993 Doctorate employment survey. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Table 1 Demographic Characteristics of 1999 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology by Employment Status (PDF, 13KB)
Table 2 Educational Characteristics of 1999 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology by Employment Status (PDF, 13KB)
Table 3 Primary and Secondary Employment Settings for 1999 Psychology Doctorate Recipients by Employment Pattern (PDF, 19KB)
Table 4 Degree Subfield by Full-time Work Setting: 1999 Psychology Doctorate Recipients (PDF, 17KB)
Table 5 Job Search and Satisfaction Reported by 1999 Psychology Doctorate Recipients by Type of Employment Position (PDF, 17KB)
Tables 5a-5d

Importance of Degree for Attaining Present Position Reported by Employed 1999 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 10KB)
Extent Graduate Training Related to Current Primary Position Reported by Employed 1999 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology(PDF, 10KB)
Level of Satisfaction with Current Position Reported by Employed 1999 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 10KB)
Appropriateness of Current Primary Position Reported by Employed 1999 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 10KB)

Table 6 Reasons for Postdoctoral Study for 1999 Doctorate Recipients with Full-time Postdoctoral Appointments by Major Emphasis of Study (PDF, 10KB)
Table 7 Sources of Financial Support for Doctoral Training Reported by 1999 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 10KB)
Table 8 Debt Related to Graduate Education on Receipt of the Doctoral Degree: 1999 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 9KB)
Table 9 Level of Debt Related to Graduate Education Owed on Receipt of Doctorate: 1996 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology Who Reported Any Debt (PDF, 10KB)
Table 10 Level of Debt Related to Graduate Education Owed on Receipt of Doctorate Recipients in Psychology Who Reported Any Debt (PDF, 14KB)
Table 11 Starting Salaries for Full-time Employment Positions: 1999 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 13KB)

The Doctorate Employment Survey is a product of APA's Research Office, a unit within Central Programs.  The authors are grateful for the continued support of Dr. Michael Honaker, Executive Director for Central Programs and Chief Operating Officer of the Association, and Dr. Norman Anderson, Chief Executive Officer of the APA.

We would like to acknowledge the tremendous contribution that the new doctorate recipients make to ongoing databases on psychologists by participating in this survey.  The data are used by staff across all Directorates at the APA in planning for the future, as well as by staff at various federal agencies evaluating their own data gathering efforts and the employment of new doctorates.