While diversity has greatly increased at the Association for Jewish Studies — around half of the organization’s approximately 3,000 members are female and 17 percent identify with a religion other than Judaism — disparities still exist in the academic discipline.
“Today women actually outnumber men among our recent Ph.D.s,” AJS president Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, announced last weekend during the organization’s 46th annual conference in Baltimore. “That said, our survey reveals that women have not yet achieved anything like equality in terms of salaries. Female members of the AJS earn lower salaries at universities and garner less outside income beyond the university than men of the same mark. The extent of the disparity is shocking.”
According to AJS data, men who earned their doctorates between 1980 and 1994 make an average of $128,000 per year, while their female colleagues make $100,000. Similarly, those who have earned doctorates since 2005 make an average of $65,000 per year as men and $59,000 per year as women.
The data came from a survey of AJS members that was completed by 1,790 respondents, about 60 percent of the organization, according to Steven M. Cohen, a research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College who helped conduct the survey.
“It’s only by revealing [salary disparities] that we have a chance of bringing about any kind of equality that I think most people in this room assume should exist between what men make and what women make,” Sarna said after his speech at the Sunday night banquet at the Hilton Baltimore.
Keren McGinity, a research affiliate at the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis and a board member of the AJS’s Women’s Caucus, said the disparities are indicative of larger forces at work.
“The pay disparities in academia and outside it are a reflection of the unfortunate reality that the social construction of traditional American gender roles is still deeply rooted,” she said via email. “The fact that American white women continue to earn only 78 cents to the dollar that white men earn for the same work — while shouldering more of domestic labor and childcare — influences perceptions and salaries within Jewish studies.”
The AJS survey also tackled issues that transcend gender, including “the question of decline” in the field itself, Sarna said.
“Anecdotally, we have all heard stories of declining enrollment, smaller numbers of majors and minors, fewer employment possibilities, and at my own university, I have to say these disturbing trends are quite evident,” he said.
In terms of course enrollment, 49 percent of survey respondents from North America reported little to no change, 23 percent reported a small decline, 7 percent reported a large decline, 17 percent reported a small increase, and 4 percent reported a large increase. Sarna said the greatest reports of declining enrollments were at Jewish seminaries, where 48 percent of faculty surveyed experienced declines in course enrollment.
“Not exactly an indication of imminent catastrophe,” Sarna said, noting that the decline is selective and not clear-cut. He noted that the humanities’ share of all degrees completed has dropped from 14 percent to 7 percent between 1966 and 2010.
Sarna then addressed the future.
Vacancies in the field exist, he confirmed, but the total number of tenured positions in Jewish studies is stable. The AJS advertises about 30 tenured or tenure-track positions each year, he said.
The bad news, he said, is that there are more job seekers than there are jobs, and professors are choosing to retire later in life or not retire at all. The average age of tenured professors in the United States — professors in all disciplines — is 55 at many universities, including Brandeis. More than 25 percent of faculty there are over 60.
Cohen said this means limited opportunities exist for those entering the field.
“The chances of being employed in academia are significantly less than when many of us entered the field 30 to 40 years ago,” he said. “When I entered the field in 1974, upon graduation I had three job offers. So now people have zero job offers [or] one job offer.”
Cohen said the field will lose people who otherwise could be productive in academia, but he and Sarna agreed that the discipline need not stigmatize those who take their doctorates elsewhere.
“A freshly minted Ph.D. who takes a job outside the academy is not a trader to the cause,” Sarna said. “Instead, he or she may actually be expanding the reach of Jewish studies, building bridges to the larger community and fulfilling an important component of our core vision while fostering greater understanding of Jewish studies scholarship.”
McGinity said it’s important for those entering the field to find ways to use their knowledge in creative ways.
“The market economy requires that scholars think more like entrepreneurs than our predecessors,” she said. “There will always be opportunities to contribute to the production and dissemination of new knowledge in meaningful ways, but how one does so has to change for everyone to succeed.”