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What Statistics Tell Us About Doctoral Degrees Today

Who’s earning doctorates and in what fields of study?

How many doctorates were awarded last year? Who are the people earning doctorates and in what subjects? That information—and more—has been gathered annually since 1957 in the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). The SED is an annual survey of every person who has received a research doctorate from an accredited university in the United States during that academic year. The survey is sponsored by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics within the National Science Foundation and by three other federal agencies: the Department of Education, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.1

How many doctorates were awarded?

In 2020, there were 55,283 research doctoral degrees awarded by universities in the U.S. That number is down slightly from 2019, when 55,614 candidates earned doctorates. In 1958, only 8,773 doctorates were earned. On average, the number of PhDs awarded has increased by 3.1% annually since 1958, although some years do reflect a decline.2

Who’s earning doctorates?

U.S. citizens and permanent residents earned 34,492 doctorates in 2020, and 18,482 were earned by temporary visa holders. Of temporary visa holders, more than half were from China, India, and South Korea. Out of all doctorate recipients, 46% were earned by women in 2020, with the remainder earned by men. Among doctoral recipients who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, 2,851 were Hispanic or Latino, 2,458 were Black, and 97 were American Indian or Alaska Native. While 16% of PhD earners said neither of their parents had more than a high school diploma, 70.5% reported that at least one of their parents had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher—an increase from 2000, when 61.6% said the same.2

In what fields?

More and more doctorates in science and engineering are being awarded each year, since 2000. Engineering experienced the largest growth, with 13% of doctorates earned in 2000, rising to nearly 19% in 2020. In 2000, 15.6% of doctorates were earned in education, but that number dropped to 8.5% in 2020.2

Doctorates awarded in 20202
Non-science and engineering fields not listed below 5.4%
Mathematics and computer sciences 7.9%
Education 8.5%
Humanities and arts 8.9%
Physical sciences and earth sciences 11.3%
Psychology and social sciences 16.2%
Engineering 18.9%
Life sciences 22.7%

Why does it matter?

The SED is used by government agencies, universities, and other organizations to document and discover major trends in doctoral education in the U.S. People who earn PhDs become the scientists, educators, engineers, researchers, and scholars who impact our lives. They are individuals who have achieved the highest level of educational attainment. These doctorate holders are innovators who will directly or indirectly create systems, products, services, and works of art that will shape our world.

Walden University offers online PhD programs in a variety of fields and is the No. 1 granter of doctoral research degrees.3 Degree programs include Doctor of Education (EdD), PhD in Education, Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) , PhD in Public Health, Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), and PhD in Management. If you’re interested in pursuing a doctoral degree while continuing your professional career, an online PhD program could be the right choice. Walden’s online doctoral programs enable students to conduct specialized research, interact with world-class faculty, and become part of a global community of scholars.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering high-quality online degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, as well as online certificate programs. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

NOTE: The 2020 SED data reflects the academic year from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. The survey of the 2021 academic year will include questions to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

3Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Database (IPEDS). Based on the most recent year of completions survey data available, using all classifications of instructional programs (CIP) codes. A doctoral research degree is a PhD or other doctoral degree that requires advanced work beyond the master’s level, including the preparation and defense of a dissertation based on original research or the planning and execution of an original project demonstrating substantial scholarly achievement. Some examples of this type of degree may include EdD, DMA, DBA, DSc, DA, DM, or others, as designated by the awarding institution. Available at (Retrieved March 2020; may consist of or include provisional release data.)

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,