2001: Doctorate Employment Survey

Jessica Kohout and Marlene Wicherski
APA Center for Workforce Studies
May 2004
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 2002 from the 2001 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 2000, the chairs of 479 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, 2000 and June 30, 2001.  The list of departments is compiled from the APA publication Graduate Study in Psychology (2000), 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 278 (58%) responding departments provided names of 2,439 PhDs, 891 PsyDs, and 19 EdDs. Based on available data (i.e., responses to the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates (NORC, 2003)), it was possible to determine that departments provided the names and addresses of 71% of the PhDs awarded in psychology. The 891 names and addresses of PsyD recipients represented about 85% of the total count for 2000-2001. It does appear then that the pool of survey recipients was representative of the majority of doctorates awarded in psychology in 2000-2001.

The questionnaire was mailed to each of the doctorate recipients in March 2002 (The appendix of this report contains a copy of the questionnaire.). Of the survey recipients, 27 indicated that they had not received their doctorates in the 2000-2001 academic year. Another 121 (0.4%) were returned as undeliverable. Nonrespondents were sent reminder postcards in early April 2002 and a complete set of materials was sent again in May 2002 to those who still had not responded.

A total of 1,754 useable questionnaires were returned—1,272 PhDs, 472 PsyDs, and 11 EdDs—yielding an overall response rate of 52%. Response rates differed based on the type of doctorate awarded; approximately 52.1% of PhDs, 52.9% of PsyDs, and 57.8% of EdDs responded. The level of participation was about the same as in 1999, when it was 51.7%.

Demographic Characteristics


Table 1 indicates that 71% of responding new doctorates were women, an increase of 19 percentage points in 20 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 67.1% reported for new PhDs by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2001.


Almost 84% of respondents were white. (NSF reported that not quite 81% of new PhDs in 2001 were white). Of those respondents providing an answer, Hispanics comprised fewer than 5% of the new doctorates while Asians represented just over 4%, and African Americans just over 3%. Native Americans represented less than 1% of the sample, while those who specified multiple race/ethnicity were just over 1% of respondents. Almost one and a half percent of respondents said they were an other racial/ ethnic category. Fifty-two of the 1,754 respondents did not specify a category.


About 62% of the respondents were younger than 35, with an additional 24% between 35 and 44 years of age. Almost 14% were 45 to 59 years old and less than one percent was 60 years or older. The average age of respondents was 35.4 which is slightly higher than the 34.7 reported by 1997 DES respondents. The median age at doctorate was 33, which is the same as that reported in 1997 in the DES but which is slightly higher than the median age at doctorate (32.1) reported by the NSF for new PhDs in 2001.

Sexual Orientation

Of those who specified, almost 94% of the respondents stated that they were heterosexual. Four percent were homosexual and 2% responded that they were bisexual. One person claimed an other orientation.

Degree Type

Almost seventy-three percent of the respondents earned a PhD; just less than 27% was awarded a PsyD (compared to 8% in 1985), while less than 1% each reported earning an EdD or JD in 2001. Table 2 depicts additional data on educational characteristics of new doctorates.

Employment Status

Sixty-nine percent of the new doctorates were employed full time, about 8% were employed part time, 18% were working on postdoctorates, 2% were unemployed and seeking employment, and another 2% 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 2001’s low of 69%), while the proportion working part time has increased slightly over time. During the past decade the numbers of new psychology doctorates in postdoctorate positions has risen from 10% in 1985 to 18% in 2001. 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 2001 they represented just under 17% of the total in the research subfields and about 26% of all postdoctorates. Full-time employment among research doctorate recipients was around 73% in 2001, up from the 68% reported in 1999. NSF data also revealed an increase in the numbers of PhDs holding postdoctorates over the past decades (Burrelli, 2003).

Most respondents (74%) were employed in their current primary position within 3 months of completing the degree. Twenty-five percent of these new doctorates found employment before completion, while 43% found work within three months of completion, and only (6%) 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, 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.

Men were more likely than women to be employed full time (78% vs. 65%), while a larger proportion of women were employed part time (10% vs. 3%). When asked for a reason for choosing part-time employment, 44% of women vs. 15% of men cited family responsibilities and 93% of those offering this reason were women. Men were more apt than women to state that they preferred a broader range of responsibilities (27% vs. 16%, respectively). (See Table 1.)

Minorities were somewhat more likely to be employed full time compared to whites (74% vs. 67%). Blacks reported the highest rate of full-time employment at 81%. About two thirds of Asians, American Indians, and Caucasians were employed full time, while 3/4 of Hispanics chose full-time status. Sixty percent of those with multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds reported full-time employment. Seventy-one percent of those who chose other were working full time. Three fourths of the new doctorates that reported a multiple racial identification were working full time. The highest rate of postdoctoral study was reported by Caucasians (19%). This year the percentage of Hispanic respondents reporting postdoctoral study was at 15%, 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 (2.1%) is up from 1.6% in 1985. Less than 3% reported being unemployed but not seeking employment. The largest proportion of this group (62%) cited home/child care responsibilities for their decision, and all were women.

Subfield of Degree

Table 2 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, there is variability. Only 39% of clinical neuropsychology doctorates were employed full time at the time of the study while 60% held postdoctorates. Three fourths of the new doctorates in counseling psychology were employed full time with fewer than 12% in postdoctoral positions. I/O graduates were far more likely to be employed full time than to be in postdoctorate positions (82% vs. 0%) while the reverse is true of those in neuroscience (33% vs. 60%). This variability highlights the different patterns of work and training 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-three percent of respondents in these subfields were engaged in postdoctoral study in 2001, compared to fewer than 13% 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, when 47% 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. In 2001, however, fully 51% provided a “good” or “excellent” response. 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. The relationship between perceptions and employment status varied by gender. Men employed full time responded positively (only 14% said bleak or poor, while 51% said good or excellent about the job market). On the other hand, men employed part time or in postdoctorates were substantially less likely to respond positively (35% of those working part time said bleak or poor as did 29% of men in postdoctorates). Women employed full time also responded positively about the job market with 55% providing a response of good or excellent. Unlike men, women employed part time and those in postdoctorate positions continued to provide positive evaluations of the job market (50% and 50%, respectively).

Employment Patterns

Full-time employment was characterized in the present survey as working a minimum of 35 hours a week, 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).

Of the 1,353 respondents for whom employment information was available, 66 % (892) were employed full time in one job only (they did not have a second or third position), while just under 8% (102) worked part time in one job only. Twenty-six percent (359) of employed respondents were working more than one job in 2001.

Employment Settings

Full-time Employment

Table 3 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 21%, followed by university settings at 18%. Almost 14%, each, could be found in hospitals, more often public than private, and in organized health care settings such as university counseling centers, rehabilitation facilities and outpatient clinics. Nearly 8% reported working in managed care settings, most of which were CMHC arrangements.

Overall, forty-one percent of full-time positions were in the human service sector; nearly 28% were in academia, just over 21% were located in business, government, and other settings, and almost 10% could be found 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 (35% 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. Thirty-seven percent chose a higher education position (e.g., university, college, and community college) as their secondary position. Percentages choosing managed care settings and other human service settings continued to decline from 1997 and 1999, while those in business, government and other settings increased slightly from 1999. The single strongest category in the business, government and other grouping continues to be “independent consultant”.

Doctorates employed full time as the result of two or more part-time positions were located most often in other human service settings (18%), independent practices (16%), hospitals (14%) and university settings (13%) as their primary employment positions. Most secondary settings for this group were in independent practice (29%), universities (18%), business, government and other (15%), and other human service settings (14%).

Part-time Employment

Table 3 also provides information on those who were employed part time (those with one or more positions totaling less than 35 hours). Fifty-nine percent indicated their primary setting was in the human service sector (about one third in independent practice). Forty-four percent of those with a secondary job were in human service settings.

Respondents working part time were asked why they chose to do so. The proportion of men working part time was half that of women (.05% vs. .12%). As in previous surveys, reasons tended to vary by sex. Women were much more likely than were men to name family responsibilities (44% vs. 15%). Both sexes stated that they could not find an appropriate full-time job (15% of men and 11% of women). Twenty-seven percent of men and 16% 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, data are presented on full-time employment settings by field of psychology for 2001 doctorates. Business, government and other settings claimed the single largest proportion of new doctorates (21%, overall), edging out university settings at 18%, hospitals at almost 14%, and other human service settings (13%). School and other educational settings followed at 9%, while managed care trailed at 7%. Independent practice was reported by 5% of new doctorates, four-year colleges by 4% and medical schools by just under 4%.

The broad category of human service settings predominated as the primary employer of new doctorates in the practice fields at 55% of all full-time employed doctorates, with hospitals in a slight lead at almost 19%, followed by other human service settings (e.g., rehabilitation centers or nursing homes) at 18%, and managed care settings at 11%. The 2001 data follow a pattern of decreasing proportions of new doctorates in the health service provider subfields entering hospital settings (26% in 1991, decreasing to 19% by 2001). The single largest proportion of doctorate recipients in the field of school psychology (almost 66%) was found in schools and other educational settings. Clinical and counseling doctorates were found distributed across all the human service settings. Almost half of those located in business, government and other settings were graduates in the health service provider subfields.

Thirty-five percent of respondents graduating in research subfields were employed in universities, while almost 11% found work in four-year colleges. A substantial proportion (34%) indicated that they had found work in business, government and other settings. Focusing on the research fields, almost 29% of those in business, government and other settings had received their degrees in the field of industrial/organizational psychology, while 21% had earned degrees in social psychology and 11% each in cognitive or experimental psychology. Twenty-eight percent of graduates in industrial/organizational psychology were employed in university settings in 2001 with 68% in business, government and other settings. Fully half of all the graduates who found work in business, government and other settings were from the research fields.

At least half the doctorates in cognitive, comparative, developmental, neurosciences, personality, psychometrics, quantitative, and social psychology could be found in university or four-year college settings. This is true also of other research doctorates but the Ns are so small that 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.

Job Satisfaction

Table 5 reports responses of employed 2001 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 53% of the respondents, the doctoral degree was an essential tool in attaining their present position; another 30% deemed it helpful. Again, 53% of the respondents rated the doctorate in psychology essential, while just over 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 (49% vs. 59%). Interestingly, the situation was reversed when respondents rated the psychology doctorate specifically, 57% of health service providers judged the psychology degree essential, compared to 47% of those working in other positions.

Commensurability of Employment

Overall, seventy-three percent of respondents indicated that their primary position was their first choice. Three fourths of those in the health service provider subfields responded affirmatively versus 70% of those in other fields. About 12% of the respondents in the human services would have preferred a different employer and another 12% mentioned a different type of position. Almost 30% of those in non-practice positions stated a preference for a change. Nine percent mentioned a new employer while close to a fifth went with a new type of position, most often a faculty position.

Seventy-two percent indicated that their general graduate training was closely related to their current employment. Seventy percent stated that courses in the major subfield were closely related. Doctorate recipients working in human service positions were somewhat more likely than those in other positions to describe their graduate training as being closely related to their current employment (77% vs. 68%), and that their coursework in their major specialty area was closely related to their current employment (78% vs. 61%, respectively). Research and teaching assistantships were far less frequently deemed closely related to current employment by the health service providers (7% each) than was the case for those in research and academic positions (39% and 35%, respectively). Not surprisingly, predoctoral internships with a clinical focus were deemed closely related by a majority of respondents in the human service positions (81%). 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 58% of health service providers versus 38% of those in the research or academic areas found these experiences closely related.

When asked if the employment position was related to the field of study, 77% of those in human services strongly agreed compared to 59% 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 (at least half in both position types strongly 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 (47% of both health service provider and research/academic agreed). The mismatch between expectations and reality is reflected in the proportions in each type of position that strongly agreed that their positions were professionally challenging (27% health services and 25% 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, salary, and opportunities for recognition, seventy percent or more of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with benefits, opportunities for personal development, 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, and opportunities for promotion, recognition 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.

Obtaining Employment

Fully 31% of the new doctorates were in their present employment positions prior to completing graduate school, while an additional 43% 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%), Monitor ads (35%), classified ads in a newspaper (31%), faculty advisors (27%), electronic resources (24%), sent unsolicited vitae (17%), and Chronicle of Higher Education advertisements (14%). See Table 5. The most successful method, regardless of type of position, remains informal channels (34%), including colleagues, professors and friends. Electronic resources came in second at 9%. Interestingly, electronic resources were used by only 11% as recently as 1997 and were the sole best method for 2% in that year.

Postdoctoral Study

Almost 42% of the 2001 doctorate recipients indicated that they were pursuing or had completed postdoctorate study. Twenty-three percent were current at the time the survey was conducted, while 18% 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 87% of the postdoctorates were full time. NSF data also reveal an increase over the past decade (Burrelli, 2003).

Demographic characteristics of postdoctorates can be found in Table 1. Eighty-eight percent of those still primarily engaged in postdoctoral studies at the time of the survey were white. Almost 4% were Asian, 4% were Hispanic, 1% was African American, and less than one percent were Native American. Some 2.5% indicated multiple or other categories. Women comprised 75% of the postdoctorate population compared with 71% of new doctorates. Seventy-five percent were less than 35 years of age and the mean age reflects this relative youth (33.9) in relation to the overall mean of 35.4.

Table 2 addresses the doctoral education of respondents currently in postdoctoral training. Eighty-one percent had earned a PhD compared to 19% with a PsyD. Up from 1999, 74% of the respondents had received their doctorates in the health service provider subfields, while 26% were in the traditional research fields. Clinical postdoctorates represented 75% of the postdoctorates in a practice subfield and less than one fifth of the clinical degrees. Almost nineteen percent of the new doctorates in service delivery subfields were in postdoctorate positions compared to 17% of those in research and other subfields.

More respondents reported current and completed postdoctorate experiences emphasizing research training than service delivery. Almost 55% focused on clinical service, 25% on research, and 20% on a combination of the two. More research postdoctorates (95%) were full time compared to 83% 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

In 2001, the majority of full-time postdoctoral training in service delivery (74%) was between one and two years in duration, with fully 65% at one year. Research postdoctorates tended to be longer in duration with only 19% of research postdoctorates reporting fellowships between one and two years. Forty-eight percent of research postdoctorates were two years long compared to 13% of those with a service delivery focus. Twenty-eight percent of postdoctorates with a research focus were longer than two years compared to less than 1% of those with a service focus. The average duration of a research postdoctorate was reported as 25 months compared to 14 months for those with a service delivery focus and 20 months for those with a combined research/practice focus

Reasons for Postdoctoral Study

Table 6 reports the reasons 2001 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 (25%), 19% were interested primarily in obtaining research knowledge or training in another subfield, while another 18% sought to become more employable.

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 (50%), followed, at some distance, by obtaining specialized clinical training (32%). Respondents engaged in postdoctoral study with a dual research/practice focus sought to obtain supervised postdoctoral hours in preparation for the licensing exam (33%) and to obtain specialized clinical training (24%).

As Table 6 suggests, improving employability (18% vs. 5%) and lack of available employment (8% vs. 3%) 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 complementing research knowledge and skills in the same subfield of the doctorate (77%), increased employability (76%), to work with a particular scientist and research group (64%), and to obtain research knowledge in another field (46%). In contrast, the postdoctorates with a service delivery focus were more apt to seek out supervised postdoctoral hours to prepare for the licensing exam (85%), to obtain specialized clinical training (74%), and to become more employable (69%). Those with a combined research/practice focus most often chose obtaining supervised postdoctoral hours to take the licensing exam (82%), complementing research knowledge and skills in the same field as the doctorate (70%), obtaining specialized clinical training (70%), and increasing employability (69%).

Source and Level of Support for Postdoctoral Training

The vast majority of postdoctoral fellows (just under 88%) received stipends in 2001. Research fellowships were rarely unpaid; less than 2% of respondents who were gaining additional research training received no stipend. Looked at another way, 98% of the research postdoctorates were paid compared to 82% of those training for service delivery. Overall, those in unpaid positions were more apt to be part-time postdoctorates than those in paid positions (29% vs. 11%). Still, over half of respondents (71%) 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 equally on university and college fees and federal research grants, followed 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. Those with research postdoctorates reported a monthly median stipend of $2,400. Postdoctorates with a service emphasis and with a combined focus were somewhat lower at a median of $2,000 per month. Mean stipends followed a similar pattern. Research postdoctorate means were highest at $2,449, followed by those with a combined focus at $2,163 and last, those with a service delivery emphasis at $1,965. The highest full-time awards overall in 2001 were federal fellowships or training grants at a median of $2,382. Federal research grants provided a median level of funding of $2,303 per month. The lowest full-time stipends were reported for nonfederal nationally awarded fellowships at a median of $1,778. 

Sources and Levels of Support for Doctoral Study

Table 7 presents data on all sources of financial support and the primary source of support used for the predoctoral training of 2001 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 2001, still only 5% of new doctorates reported using grants (primarily federal) as a primary source of support. University resources comprised 33% of the primary support in 2001, with loans at 30%. Own earnings and family support were cited as a primary source by 27% of recent doctorates. Almost 5% did not specify their sources of support. 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 2001, this had fallen to just under 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 41% in 2001. Those relying on self-support had inched up from 41% in 1979 to 44% in 2001 (NSF, 1984; NSF, 2003). Several science fields stand out by virtue of the large proportion of students dependent upon “self or own sources of support” in comparison with the proportion using research or teaching assistantships; psychology is among these fields.

The new doctorates' responses to a question about all sources of support underscored the heavy reliance on personal sources of support for graduate training. Almost 88% of the respondents used own or family resources. Some 73% received support from university-based resources. Student loans were a source of support for 63% of the respondents (up from 60% in 1997). Finally, 19% had received federal grant support at some point during their graduate training.

Sources of support were analyzed by various demographic and educational factors for the 2001 graduates. First, minority graduates were slightly less likely to have used personal resources during their training. Indeed, 28% of the white doctorate recipients who specified a primary source of support chose personal resources, while 20% 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 (12% vs. 4%).

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 (43%), with 19% using loans and one fourth using own resources. PsyD graduates presented a different picture with less than 5% using university sources of support, 61% 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 22%. Loans were employed primarily by 12% and grants by just under 9%. The picture is different for the graduates in the health service provider subfields where we find that only 25% used assistantships primarily, turning instead to loans (38%) and own or family earnings (29%).

Debt Levels of New Doctorates by Subfield

As can be seen in Table 8 and Table 9, 71% of the 2001 doctorates reported some level of debt upon receipt of the doctoral degree. There were noticeable subfield differences; with almost 77% of new doctorates in the practice subfields reporting any debt compared to 57% of those in the research subfields. Graduates in counseling reported the highest proportion with debt (79%). 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 4%. At the high end of the scale, over two thirds of the new doctorates in the practice subfields owed more than $30,000. Seventy-two percent or 459 of 638 of these had debt in excess of $50,000. In contrast, forty-two percent of new doctorates in the research subfields owed more than $30,000 and of these, half had debts greater than $50,000. The median level of debt for those in the practice subfields was $50,000 compared to $25,000 for those in the research subfields.

Debt levels analyzed by field and type of degree revealed some interesting differences. Fully 83% of those with PsyDs reported some debt (This was 84% for Clinical PsyDs.), while 67% of those with PhDs did so (Seventy-two percent of Clinical PhDs reported debt.).

A graduate with a PsyD in Clinical psychology reported a median debt level of $80,000 in 2001, up from $70,000 in 1999 and $53,000 in 1997. The Clinical PhD reported a median level of debt of $36,000. Graduates with PhDs in the research subfields had markedly lower median levels of debt by comparison ($25,000 across all research subfields). Fifty-one percent of PsyD graduates had more than $75,000 in debt compared to only 15% of PhDs. 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 2001 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 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 2001 was $51,333 with an average of $53,948 and a standard deviation of $17,762. Women reported a median salary that was $4,000 less than that reported by men ($50,000 vs. $54,000, respectively). Women’s mean salary was also lower by more than $5,000 and the standard deviation reported by women was less. Median salaries reported by minorities were identical to those reported by nonminorities ($51,300). The mean salaries were $53,472 and $54,000, respectively.

Most graduates reported median starting salaries between $50,000 and $56,000. I/O graduates were the exception with an overall median at $70,500. The higher salary is driven by the fact that most I/O graduates are employed in business and industry, consulting firms, and government settings.

Indeed, the highest median 11-12-month salaries were reported by doctorates in applied psychology settings ($73,500), particularly those working in business or industry ($77,000). The highest median 9-10-month salaries were reported by doctorates in school psychology ($57,444) delivering services in elementary or secondary schools. In general, applied and administrative positions were characterized by higher salaries in contrast with other positions. Definitions of the position types used in the survey are contained in the instrument, which can be found in the appendix.


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Table 1

Demographic Characteristics of 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology, by Employment Status  (PDF, 16KB)

Table 2

Educational Characteristics of 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology, by Employment Status  (PDF, 16KB)

Table 3

Primary and Secondary Employment Settings for 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology, by Employment Pattern  (PDF, 22KB)

Table 4

Degree Subfield by Primary Full-time Employment Setting: 2001 Psychology Doctorate Recipients  (PDF, 19KB)

Table 5

Job Search and Satisfaction Reported by 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology, by Type of Employment Position  (PDF, 19KB)

Table 5a

Importance of Degree for Attaining Present Position Reported by Employed 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology  (PDF, 17KB)

Table 5b

Extent Graduate Training Related to Current Primary Position Reported by Employed 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology  (PDF, 17KB)

Table 5c

Level of Satisfaction with Current Position Reported by Employed 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology  (PDF, 17KB)

Table 5d

Appropriateness of Current Primary Position Reported by Employed 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology   (PDF, 17KB)

Table 6

Reasons for Postdoctoral Study for 2001 Doctorate Recipients with Full-time Postdoctoral Appointments by Major Emphasis of Study  (PDF, 15KB)

Table 7

Sources of Financial Support for Doctoral Training Reported by 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology  (PDF, 12KB)

Table 8

Debt Related to Graduate Education on Receipt of the Doctoral Degree: 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology  (PDF, 15KB)

Table 9

Level of Debt Related to Graduate Education Owed on Receipt of Doctorate: 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology Who Reported Any Debt  (PDF, 14KB)

Table 10

Level of Debt Related to Graduate Education Owed on Receipt of Doctorate: 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology Who Reported Any Debt  (PDF, 16KB)

Table 11

Starting Salaries for Full-time Employment Positions: 2001 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology  (PDF, 18KB)



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 and Executive Vice President 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.