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Who earned PhDs in economics in 2020?

The latest data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates for the 1216 PhDs in economics awarded in 2020 find that men outnumbered women by nearly 2-to-1, 60% of the doctorates went to foreigners with temporary visas, and 24 of the 493 recipients (about 5%) who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents were Black.

A few gleanings from the data:

Of 1216 PhDs awarded in economics in 2020, 797 (66%) went to men and 419 (34%) to women.  For comparison, in physics, 21% of the doctorates were awarded to women; in computer and information sciences, also 21%; in math and statistics, 29%; in political science, 39%; in chemistry, also 39%; in business management and administration, 42%; in sociology, 59%; in psychology, 72%.

Data on the race/ethnicity of PhDs are available only for those who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Here’s the breakdown for 2020 and 2019:

PhDs in economics awarded to U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents

The number of PhDs awarded to Black U.S. citizens or permanent residents has risen slightly in the past few years, from an average of 16 in 2013 through 2017 to an average of 25 in the following three years.

Among the 1216 recipients of PhDs in economics in 2020:

  • About half were married when they got their degree. Men and women were equally likely to be married.
  • The median age at completion was 31, the same for women and men.
  • About 12% took five years or less from graduate school entry to completion, 68% took more than five years and up to 10 years, and 20% took more than 10 years. The median was 7.5 years; the median for men was a few months shorter than the median for women.
  • Almost 80% had no debt from graduate school; half of the remainder owed less than $20,000. About 85% had no debt from undergrad. (These data don’t distinguish between those who did their undergraduate work abroad and those who did it in the U.S.)

To read the Hutchins Center report on gender and racial diversity among PhD economists employed by the federal government in 2020, visit this page.

The data in this post are from the Restricted-Use Data Analysis System of the Survey of Earned Doctorates, a survey of 55,000 individuals who earned doctorates in the prior year. The Hutchins Center report uses data from the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession, which are drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, and differ slightly from the data in the Survey of Earned Doctorates.


The Brookings Institution is financed through the support of a diverse array of foundations, corporations, governments, individuals, as well as an endowment. A list of donors can be found in our annual reports published online here. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions in this report are solely those of its author(s) and are not influenced by any donation.

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