Ph.D. degrees are pretty rare, The Five-Year Engagement notwithstanding

In the movie The Five-Year Engagement, one of the main characters has a post-doc at the University of Michigan in social psychology. I wondered how many people know what a post-doc is and this pushed me to think more broadly: just how common is a Ph.D. in the United States? According to the 2012 Statistical Abstract, there were 49,562 PhDs awarded in 2009, up from 42,437 in 1996. According to the National Science Foundation, here are some additional figures on the number of doctorates awarded:

-In the first year of their data, 1957, there were 8,611 PhDs awarded.

-The greatest years of PhD growth (measured by % change from previous year) were clearly in the 1960s with peaks of 14.1% in 1965 and 14.6% in 1970.

-There were 48,069 doctorates awarded in 2010.

(Unfortunately, these tables do not break down how many doctoral students graduated with degrees/concentrations in social psychology.)

Census figures from 2010 say 27.9% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Figures from 2011 show that 7.95% of Americans have a master’s degree and 3% have a doctorate or professional degree.

All this suggests that PhDs are relatively rare in the United States meaning that many Americans may not be able to relate to this story (plus, how many movies or TV shows focus on academia?). However, the movie is set in San Francisco and Ann Arbor: 51.2% of residents in San Francisco have a bachelor’s degree or higher (with a California state figure of 30.1%) and 19.7% of residents have a graduate or professional degree (ACS estimates). In the college town of Ann Arbor, 71.1% of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher (with a Michigan state figure of 25%) and 42% have a graduate or professional degree (ACS estimates).

So is Judd Apatow aiming for a more educated audience with his latest film?

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