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Is an Academic Career a Luxury Good? Student Debt and the Under-Representation of Minorities


  • Robert M. Feinberg


Minority groups are under-represented in university teaching and research positions; they are employed in these positions at lower rates than would be indicated by college enrollments and (to a lesser extent) shares of doctoral degrees. Using data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, from 2001 to 2016, this article examines whether some of this is due an under-representation of scholars with high student debt and fewer parental resources, choosing business or government careers rather than academia. Analyzing a large sample of new PhDs from 2001 to 2016, we find that student debt has limited the decision to enter academia, perhaps with long-term impacts for diversity of the profession. Examining the subsample of STEM PhDs, the same patterns emerge -- with perhaps stronger adverse impacts of debt on Black and Hispanic academic career choice.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert M. Feinberg, 2019. "Is an Academic Career a Luxury Good? Student Debt and the Under-Representation of Minorities," Working Papers 2019-05, American University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:amu:wpaper:2019-05

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    More about this item


    Student debt; academic career; diversity; doctorates;

    JEL classification:

    • A2 - General Economics and Teaching - - Economic Education and Teaching of Economics
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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