Excellent job market for PhDs

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Excellent job market for PhDs

An analysis of the labor market situation for female university graduates shows that the conditions for doctoral graduates in Switzerland are very good: Five years after the doctorate, the unemployment rate is just 0.9%. At this time, 47% of the holders of a doctorate have a management function. The median annual gross income for doctoral graduates is CHF 107,500 five years after graduation ,although there arelarge differences between women and men .

The Swiss Federal Statistical Office (SFSO) regularly conducts surveys on the professional development of graduates from Swiss universities. Recently, the results of the 2004 graduates have been published, who participated in a survey about their professional career one year (2005) and five years (2009) after graduation (bachelor, master or doctorate).

High labor force participation rate

It often proves difficult to find a first job after the master’s or doctorate degree. Depending on the field, the job search takes several months. However, most of these difficulties have been overcome five years after graduation. In 2009, five years after graduation, the unemployment rate for doctorate holders was just 0.9%. There are differences depending on the subject area: medicine or technical sciences have a lower unemployment rate than, for example, social sciences and humanities. But in all disciplines, the unemployment rate is below 2% and thus well below the national average, which was 4.3% in 2009.

The high employment rate also shows that the vast majority of young graduates succeed in entering the workforce: five years after graduation, the employment rate for graduates with a master’s degree is 96%, and 97% for those with a doctorate. A comparison of the employment rate by place of residence shows that graduates living in Switzerland are more strongly represented on the labor market than their colleagues living abroad. This observation holds true both one year and five years after graduation; however, the difference is small. It is partly due to the fact that people living abroad are more often in further education than their counterparts living in Switzerland. Overall, foreigners also make a very successful transition from higher education to the Swiss labor market.

Professional position improves with work experience

The career progression between 2005 and 2009 shows that the proportion of people holding a management position rose sharply with five years of work experience. Among holders of a doctorate, this share increased from 25% to 47% in the period under review. At the same time, the proportion of those working as assistants (2005: 26%; 2009: 14%) or as employees without a management function (2005: 43%; 2009: 31%) has become smaller. Women are generally less represented in management positions than men and more often work as salaried employees without management functions. In 2009, the proportion of men with doctorates in management positions was 52%, and only 39% of women with doctorates.

Employment conditions vary

Half of the graduates of the 2004 cohort have a temporary job one year after graduation. This share decreases with increasing length of stay on the labor market: Five years after graduation, only 26% of graduates at the master’s level are employed on a fixed-term basis, while 34.7% of doctoral graduates are still employed on a fixed-term basis. At first glance, this still high share of temporary employment among doctoral graduates is surprising. This is probably due to the fact that doctoral graduates who continue to work at universities are predominantly employed on a temporary basis. This proportion drops to a level comparable to that of other graduates in the non-university labor market.

Full or part-time work?

Five years after graduation, 25% of PhDs work part-time. In general, graduates with children are more likely to work part-time than those without children. This effect is more pronounced among women than among men. Graduates in the humanities and social sciences also have more part-time jobs than graduates in the other subject groups.

The reasons for part-time work vary. Children are among the top reasons for choosing part-time employment. Five years after graduation, 65% of part-time working women with doctorates cite caring for children or running the household as a reason. This reason is also common among men (37% among PhDs). Other reasons for part-time work include personal interests or attending further education. And last but not least, it can be assumed that doctoral students and assistants at universities often only obtain part-time positions. The lowest percentage of female graduates working full-time can be observed in the category of doctoral students and assistants.

Income depends on the field and gender

The FSO study also examined the median gross annual income of university graduates, extrapolated to 100 job percentages. For the 2004 graduation cohort, the median annual gross income five years after graduation is CHF 92,300 for graduates at the master’s level and CHF 107,500 for doctoral graduates. This means that doctoral graduates earn a good CHF 15,000 more per year. However, it must be taken into account that holders of a doctorate are on average five years older than master’s graduates. During this time, they have been able to acquire additional expertise as well as work experience. It would therefore be too short-sighted to justify the differences in income solely on the basis of the title acquired (doctorate). A comparison must also take into account the usually very low income during the doctorate, which is equivalent to a loss of income over several years.

Salaries depend on the subject area, gender and major region. The highest incomes are achieved by doctoral graduates in the subject area groups law (CHF 136,500) and economics (CHF 130,000). The exact and natural sciences (CHF 100,000), on the other hand, are at the lower end of the spectrum, along with the subject area group medicine and pharmacy. Whether this is due to the fact that five years after the doctorate, many medical and natural scientists are still in low-paid academic research positions is not known.

Differences between women and men are particularly pronounced among doctoral graduates: Five years after the doctorate, men earn CHF 111,000, more than CHF 12,000 more than women. The differences also persist within the subject area groups.

The income analysis also shows that a career move pays off: PhDs earn almost CHF 20,000 more in a position with a management function than in a position without a management function. The fact that men are more likely to take on management functions five years after graduation than women could be one reason for the observed income differences between the sexes. In fact, however, this is only slightly reduced when professional position and gender are considered together.

While wages for master’s graduates vary relatively widely by region, such regional income differences are not observed for doctoral graduates.

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