There’s no shortage of explanations for the so-called crisis in the humanities, and more have come to light since the publication of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ recent “Heart of the Matter” report on the topic. A Recent article in Inside Higher Ed reports on a new study on gender and choices of courses of study, academic majors, and implicit career aspirations
The finding is “that the humanities drain is more about women’s equality than a devaluation of the humanities – is gaining particular interest from longtime advocates of the humanities, as well as some criticism.
“Ben Schmidt, a visiting graduate fellow at the Cultural Observatory at Harvard University, argues that the decline in humanities majors since their 1970 peak can be attributed nearly entirely to the changing majors of women.
“Based on data compiled for the academy’s Humanities Indicators Project, he wrote, “I think it’s safe to say that [the] ostensible reason for the long-term collapse in humanities enrollment has to do with the increasing choice of women to enter more pre-professional majors like business, communications, and social work in the aftermath of a) the opening of the workplace and b) universal coeducation suddenly making those degrees relevant.”
“He continued: “You’d have to be pretty tone-deaf to point to their ability to make that choice as a sign of cultural malaise.”
“Looking at the often-cited drop in humanities majors from 14 percent of all degrees granted some 40 years ago to 7 percent today as a whole, commentators such as David Brooks have attributed it to a disconnect with the current pedagogy. Others say that college students are increasingly career-oriented and so are rejecting degrees that don’t promise a job upon graduation.”
“But Schmidt comes to his conclusion by breaking down the numbers to show that the proportion of male graduates majoring in the humanities has declined from 13 to 7 percent from its peak in 1970 to today, a period in which overall enrollments and available fields of study both increased dramatically. At the same time, the proportion of women majors decreased more dramatically, from more than 20 percent to roughly the same percentage as their male counterparts today”