Inequality in faculty placement

inequality in academia

How does your PhD institution affect your chances at a faculty position?

Across disciplines, we find steep prestige hierarchies, in which only 9 to 14% of faculty are placed at institutions more prestigious than their doctorate…Under a meritocracy, the observed placement rates would imply that faculty with doctorates from the top 10 units are inherently two to six times more productive than faculty with doctorates from the third 10 units. The magnitude of these differences makes a pure meritocracy seem implausible, suggesting the influence of nonmeritocratic factors like social status.

Academia ROCSome factoids:

  • This falloff in faculty production is sufficiently steep that only the top 18 to 36% of institutions are net producers of within-discipline faculty
  • Differences by gender are greatest for graduates of the most prestigious institutions in computer science and business, where median placement for women graduating from the top 15% of units is 12 to 18% worse than for men from the same institutions. That is, the hierarchy is slightly steeper for elite women than for elite men in these disciplines.
  • These results are broadly consistent with an academic system organized in a classic core-periphery pattern (17), in which increased prestige correlates with occupying a more central, better connected, and more influential network position…As a result, faculty at central institutions literally perceive a “small world”  as compared to faculty located in the periphery.
  • Reinforcing the association of centrality and insularity with higher prestige, we observe that 68 to 88% of faculty at the top 15% of units received their doctorate from within this group, and only 4 to 7% received their doctorate from below the top 25% of units.

You can find their prestige rankings for Computer Science, Business, and History in their supplemental material (figure S10).

Obviously, things are more complicated when you have postdocs or are in a “high status” lab in a “low prestige” university.

The problems of academic insularity and flow of good ideas is evident.


Clauset A, Arbesman S, & Larremore DB (2015). Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks Science Advances

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