2023 Survey Results: Graduate Student Income

The 2023 APDA Survey included the following new questions for current graduate students of philosophy PhD programs:

  • How satisfied are you in your financial situation? [very unsatisfied, unsat-
    isfied, neutral, satisfied, very satisfied]
  • Please elaborate on your previous answer.
  • Including all sources (e.g. stipends, employment, gifts) what is your ap-
    proximate annual income? (Please provide in US dollars or name the
    currency you are using.
  • If you needed access to $1000 or its equivalent for emergency purposes,
    could you get it? [yes, no]

The mean annual income was $30,183 (n=288; median is $29,000). The mean satisfaction value was "neutral" (16% very unsatisfied, 24% unsatisfied, 19% neutral, 30% satisfied, 11% very satisfied). Satisfaction with one's financial situation corresponded with income. Those who answered "very unsatisfied" had a mean income of $24,892, whereas those who answered "very satisfied" had a mean income of $38,086. In contrast, PhD graduates now in temporary academic jobs had a mean salary of $51,314 (n=149) and those in permanent academic jobs had a mean salary of $81,507 (n=364). The mean U.S. salary is $59,384.

Of those who also answered the question about emergency funds (n=319), 24% could not get access to $1000 or its equivalent for emergency purposes. In contrast, only 7% of graduates say they cannot get access to such funds (n=658). While the majority of Americans are reportedly in this position, comparative survey questions have asked specifically about access to cash or savings, not access to funds overall:

“All too many Americans continue to walk on thin ice, financially speaking, with fewer than half indicating they would pay an emergency expense of $1,000 or more from savings,” Bankrate Senior Economic Analyst Mark Hamrick says.

Here are some select comments from those graduate students who report being "very unsatisfied":

The rent burden where I live can be anywhere from 70 percent to 95 percent of the total graduate student earnings. This is not acceptable.
I can barely afford to live as it is, and we have no pay whatever during the summer. It’s just not sustainable unless you are rich, have rich family, or are willing to rack up credit card debt or student loan debt.
I took out a lot of student loans. I did not finish my PhD in my five years of funding, my sixth year was competitive funding that I needed to apply for, and then it was necessary for me to find a full-time job before finishing my dissertation. I am in a lot of debt.

from those who report being "unsatisfied":

The most significant drawback of pursuing graduate school in philosophy is the sacrifice to one's finances. Setting aside the significant opportunity costs of obtaining a PhD, it is extremely difficult to build any savings in graduate school. This is particularly true in rent-burdened locations like San Diego, where cost of living has spiraled out of control--especially in the last three years. The response of universities has been, to my mind, inadequate. Adding to this the reality that it is no longer feasible to expect secure (if not well-paying) employment after graduate school, inadequate finances remain the primary reason why I would caution anyone from pursuing a PhD in Philosophy.
Our stipend is on the higher end for many programs yet I still struggle to afford daily necessities. It doesn't help that we are often expected to pay up front for conference travel, etc. and wait to be reimbursed. I end up putting it on credit cards and having to pay interest which I can't afford. We also need nicer clothes for professional events. I face casual disparaging comments about using an old laptop and students say things about how useful/helpful e.g. tablets are and suggest I get one as if I could afford to suddenly spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on new technology. Students pay annual fees to have personal websites. Socializing happens over drinks and expensive dinners so I miss out socially. We aren't permitted to have outside employment yet I have a family to care for. I understand that many of these problems are common to many careers. But given philosophy's interests in becoming more inclusive, it's worth noting. Graduate students who come from wealthy backgrounds are at a significant advantage.
As a single person, my stipend allows me to make ends meet, living modestly. But 6+ years on a fixed income that is low (but just high enough to not qualify for benefits) produces a dearth of savings, right at the moment when you go on the market and are likely to need it most (i.e. to tide you over if you don't get a reasonable job offer).

from those who are "neutral":

I would feel serious financial stress if I didn't have a partner outside if academia. Just a few thousand dollars more per year would make a huge diffence to our grad student's financial security.
I am able to subsist with careful planning and supplementary summer work. I teach a lot for what I am paid and wish I could be compensated more. I am very aware that this arrangement has taken time away from my ability to research and publish more.
It is enough to live on, but not enough to escape frequent financial anxiety.

from those who report being "satisfied":

The stipend is generous for a graduate program in this field, and the premiums for the insurance are included. However, if the stipend doesn't increase with cost of living, it would be disastrous.
expensive cost of living in my city, but the stipend stretches fine for my needs. i also am coming from a place of financial privilege though (no undergrad debt, no dependents, no chronic illness), and if that were not true, i think the stipend would be much less sustainable
I get enough money during the spring and fall semesters, but not enough during the summer.

and from those who report being "very satisfied":

I am independently wealthy.
I am fortunate to receive a high stipend from my program and have been able to secure additional funding opportunities through my university (e.g. fellowships, research funds). Having entered graduate school with no student loan debt and the financial support of my spouse and our extended family, and living very frugally, I have been able to save some money during graduate school.
My financial situation is based on a lot of money saved before starting my PhD.

Link to this blog post at https://apda.ghost.io/graduate-student-income/