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The American Archaeologist:
Results of the 1994 SAA Census

Melinda A. Zeder

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In 1994 the Society for American Archaeology undertook a census to "take the pulse of archaeology in America." A comprehensive study of the results of that census, The American Archaeologist: A Profile presents an in-depth, empirically grounded look at central issues in American Archaeology today: Who is the American archaeologist? How are American archaeologists educated? Where do they work? What are the products of American archaeology? How is funding for archaeology allocated?

Two primary and related themes are traced throughout the book concerning the changing nature of archaeological employment in America today and the status of men and women in the profession. Census data are presented in numerous graphs that accompany each chapter, and a number of appendixes at the end of the book present the basic data.

The first four chapters summarized here present an overview of the major themes and findings of the study; an examination of demographic trends in age and gender, ethnic heritage and socioeconomic backgrounds, marriage and family lives; a consideration of current trends in the pursuit of higher academic degrees; and a detailed discussion of conditions of archaeological employment which lead to differential levels of personal satisfaction. Chapters summarized in the next issue of the Bulletin include a discussions of research trends, publication and professional activities of American archaeologists, trends in archaeological funding, and a summary of the primary findings of the study.

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Introduction to the Census

Chapter 1, "Taking the Pulse," discusses how and why the census was designed and implemented and the nature of the response. It also outlines the major themes and presents some its primary findings. In the early 1990s the Society for American Archaeology initiated a project designed to gain a better understanding of its membership. The largest professional archaeological organization in the Americas, SAA has a membership of almost 6,000 student, professional, and avocational archaeologists, representing virtually every archaeological work setting and every major disciplinary interest group in American archaeology today. Yet, at the time, SAA had only a limited and largely impressionistic picture of its membership, with no reliable answers to questions as to the membership's identity, distribution, or preferences. In late 1992 I was asked by the SAA Executive Board to design and implement a survey that would help SAA draw a more empirically grounded profile of its members. In undertaking this task I assembled a group of archaeologists representing major constituencies of the archaeological community, including university and museum-based professional and student archaeologists, government archaeologists, private sector archaeologists, and archaeologists interested in the status of women in the discipline. These individuals included Jeff Hantman (University of Virginia), Rosemary Joyce (Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, former chair of the Committee for the Status of Women in Archaeology), Mark Lynott (National Park Service Midwest Archeological Center), Elizabeth Moore (Virginia Museum of Natural History, then a graduate student at American University), and Joseph Schuldenrein (Geo-Archaeology Research Associates). Together we designed a more ambitious survey instrument than had first been envisionedan eight-page census that sought to build a detailed and comprehensive picture, not just of the SAA membership, but of our profession as a whole. The census form was mailed to more than 5,000 SAA members, as well as to a representative sample of 1,000 nonmember archaeologists. The nearly 1,700 census forms returned to us represent a response rate of about 30 percent, and tell a compelling story of a discipline undergoing significant change in its composition, context, and goals.

Broadly speaking, census results illuminate two major overarching and related themes in American archaeology: the changing face of the archaeological workforce, focusing in particular on the status of men and women in the discipline; and the changing nature of the workplace, principally caused by the growth of private and public sector archaeology.

There have been significant strides toward gender equity in American archaeology. Women are increasingly better represented in the archaeological workforce, especially in academic settings. There is greater gender equity in the number of women with advanced degrees and in the amount of time it takes them to receive these degrees. The substantial difference between the salaries of men and women performing similar jobs with similar amounts of training and experience is narrowing among younger archaeologists. Yet there are also areas where long-standing inequities remain and even where new ones may be emerging. For although a higher proportion of younger women than men is going into academia, there is a persistent, if not increasing, tendency for women in academia to occupy non-tenure track positions with more limited potential for advancement and job security. Although salary imbalances between men and women who have more recently entered the archaeological workforce are smaller than they are among senior archaeologists, differences remain between the salaries of younger men and women in similar positions, especially in academic and museum settings. Moreover, women continue to make greater personal sacrifices to pursue careers in archaeology. They marry less frequently and are more likely to delay, or forgo, having children than are men.

The second major theme that emerges from the census is the growth of public and private sector archaeology and the widening schism between archaeology as a business and archaeology as an academic pursuit. Federal and state legislation that mandates assessment of the cultural resources at risk due to both civil and private construction projects has spurred the development of multimillion-dollar archaeological businesses. The private firms and independent consultants that perform this work represent the fastest growing sector of the archaeological workforce. Not only do private sector archaeologists have greater earning potential than archaeologists in other work settings, the private sector has one of the largest proportions of people who are highly satisfied with their current positions and the smallest proportion who claim to be dissatisfied with their careers. The increased awareness of the importance of preserving the nation's cultural heritage has also resulted in a parallel, though perhaps not as dramatic, growth in the proportion of the archaeological workforce employed in government settings (federal, state, and local). Although the salary potential of government archaeologists is not as great as it is for private sector or for academic archaeologists, there is greater gender equity in salaries in government archaeology, fewer employees in the lowest salary brackets, and wider access to more comprehensive benefits than in any other employment setting. Moreover, while fewer government archaeologists claim to be highly satisfied with their jobs, fewer people in government archaeology claim they are unsatisfied with their careers than in either academic or museum settings. Yet a significant number of people in these two growing sectors of archaeological employment feel the academic training they received failed to provide them with either realistic expectations for their current careers or the training necessary to succeed in these careers. Additionally, there is a growing sense that the theoretical underpinnings and methodological strategies of the archaeology practiced in universities and museums is seriously out-of-touch with the realities of archaeology in the private sector. The disaffection of private and public sector archaeologists from academic archaeology is already impacting the educational trajectories of younger archaeologists embarking on their careers and may well be the most significant challenge facing American archaeology in the coming century.

A variety of subplots and cross-cutting themes also emerges from the census, which captures important trends in regional, theoretical, methodological, and topical research interests. We can now describe and compare the nature of archaeology practiced in different work settings. We can review how archaeologists use their time, and explore how and where archaeologists would prefer to practice their profession, while providing a measure of the archaeologists' productivity and the avenues by which they present the results of their work. The census enables us to contrast the sources and volume of funding available by work setting, gender, and type of archaeological endeavor.

In short, the census gives us the most comprehensive and complete picture of this profession ever drawn, one which, perhaps paradoxically for a field that looks to the past, is alive with change, potential, and new challenges. In some ways this picture is emblematic of current trends in many of the behavioral sciences that are also experiencing important changes in demographics and orientations. This is, then, a story for the professional archaeologist concerned about the health and future directions of the field, for the student charting a career in archaeology, and for the nonarchaeologist interested in the sociology of the behavioral sciences in the late twentieth century.

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Demographic Trends

Chapter 2, "Profiling the American Archaeologist," builds a basic profile of the profession and introduces a set of recurrent themes. Data presented here reveal important shifts in the age and gender composition of American archaeology, from a strong male bias among older professional archaeologists toward a virtually even representation of men and women among archaeologists in their twenties and thirties (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1: Professional, non-student males and females in each age cohort, showing the increasingly even representation of women in the younger age cohorts.

In addition, this chapter provides empirical support for the impression one gets attending any major archaeological gathering in North Americathat American archaeologists are a homogenous group composed almost exclusively of people of European ancestry. People of Hispanic, African American, Native American, or Asian ancestry make up only 2 percent of respondents. There is also a trend toward increasingly higher representation of individuals from middle to upper socioeconomic backgrounds among younger archaeologistsespecially among women.

Finally, an examination of the family life of the American archaeologist demonstrates long-standing, chronic imbalances in the personal choices men and women make in their pursuit of an archaeological career. Men are more likely to marry and to stay married, or possibly to remarry if divorced or widowed (Figure 2a). And while women eventually have children at the same rate as their male counterparts, they are much more likely to delay parenthood longer than men (Figure 2b) and may be more likely to be left with dependent children after divorce. These patterns are particularly pronounced among women with doctoral degrees.

Figure 2a Figure 2b
Figure 2: Married PhD men and women (a) and PhD men and women with dependents (b) in each age cohort. While there is a disparity in the proportion of men and women who are married in all age cohorts, the drop in the proportion of married women in their fifties suggests a higher rate of divorce or widowhood without remarriage among older women. Moreover, only 50 percent of women in their fifties are married, while 70 percent of these women have dependents, suggesting that not only do PhD women have children later than men, they also are more likely to be left with dependent children after divorce or death of a partner.

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Trends in Archaeological Educational

Analysis of patterns of postgraduate education presented in Chapter 3, "Educating the American Archaeologist," not only provides leading indicators of future change in archaeology, but also gives us a clear look at a number of dramatic trends in recent years that have already reshaped the profession. One of the most striking of these is a movement toward greater gender parity in the proportion of men and women receiving advanced degrees (Figure 3). There is also a surprising drop in the proportion of males going on for doctoral degrees, especially among younger men, which may signal an important change in the types of careers younger male archaeologists are pursuing (Figure 4). Tracking the length of time professional archaeologists spend on their education reveals a startling increase in the number of years it takes to obtain advanced degrees in archaeology, as well as a significant increase in the average age of degree recipients (Figure 5).

Figure 3
Figure 3: Men and women with PhDs by decade of degree award. Women and men are increasingly evenly represented in more recent award decades.

Figure 4
Figure 4: PhDs relative to MAs within each age cohort for men and women. Here the higher proportion of PhDs among older men when compared to women can be contrasted with the reversal of this pattern among younger archaeologists. Note also the steep drop in the proportion of younger men with PhDs relative to the number of men with MAs as their highest degree.

Figure 5
Figure 5: Average number of years between BA and PhD and average age of PhD recipients by decade of degree award. Note the increase in time taken to obtain a PhD and the older average age of PhD recipients in more recent award decades.

A closer look at degree-granting institutions highlights a dramatic proliferation of universities and colleges with doctoral programsa development that would seem to run counter to the apparent decline in the number of younger archaeologists with PhDs. It also reveals significant changes over time in the institutions that produce the majority of archaeologists with higher degrees. Older archaeologists are more likely to have received their degrees from PhD-granting institutions on the East Coast and in the Midwest, while an increasing proportion of younger archaeologists are receiving degrees from institutions in the Southwest and West. There is also an increase in the proportion of students receiving master's degrees from institutions that do not have PhD-granting programs but that focus instead on the master's as the highest degree awarded in archaeology.

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Trends in Archaeological Employment

In Chapter 4, "Archaeological Employment in the Americas," the trends in basic demographics and educational trajectories discussed in earlier chapters are placed within the larger context of a discipline undergoing a period of profound transformation. At the heart of this transformation is a major restructuring in archaeological employment caused by the growth of public, and, especially, private sector archaeology that is challenging the long standing status quo of archaeological practice in academia and museums, and is reshaping almost every aspect of American archaeology. This chapter takes an in-depth look at these fundamental changes through an examination of where American archaeologists work, what they do there, what they would prefer to be doing, how much they earn , and how they view their careers in archaeology. In so doing, patterns in demographics and training noted earlier are themselves seen as part of these broader changes and shifts in where and how American archaeologists practice their trade. In turn, this understanding of the conditions of archaeological employment provides in turn a necessary context for an evaluation of trends in research, publications, and funding in the chapters that follow.

Data presented in Chapter 4 show that the marked increase in the proportion of women in archaeology, identified in Chapters 2 and 3, is accompanied by a significant shift among younger women away from jobs that straddle two or more major work settings, or in which archaeology is only a minor component, and toward more full-time employment in the four primary sectors of archaeological employment: academia, government, museums, and the private sector. And while the representation of women in these primary employment sectors has risen sharply (Figure 6), there has, in fact, been little change over the past 30 years in the distribution of women across these sectors (Figure 7a).

Figure 6
Figure 6: Professional, non-student men and women employed in academia within each age cohort.

The increased representation of women in academia relative to men is not attributable to growth in the proportion of the female workforce who are employed in academia. Indeed there is some decline in academic employment among women. Instead this growth is largely a result of a significant movement of younger men away from these traditional sectors of archaeological employment, especially away from academia (Figure 7b). The decline of men in academia is accompanied by a marked increase in the proportion of males pursuing careers in the private sector and, to a lesser extent, in government-based archaeology. Both of these growth sectors tend to employ large numbers of individuals with master's degrees, a factor that probably explains the increasing number of younger men who are ending their studies with MAs. Moreover, those in government and the private sector with master's degrees have quite similar earning potential as those with PhDs, especially when compared to those in academic and museum settings. The generally higher and faster-growing salaries in the private sector may also be a factor in the growth of private sector employment among younger men.

Figure 7a Figure 7b
Figure 7: Archaeologists employed in different job sectors within the three largest age cohorts for women (a) and men (b). Women across all three age cohorts have a relatively constant employment profile. Among men, the steep drop in academic employment can be contrasted with the corresponding increase in the number employed in the private sectors and in government settings.

Data on income in archaeology also reveal that the substantial salary gap between older men and women is narrowing among cohorts of younger archaeologists who have recently entered the workforce. While there is greater equality in the salaries paid to younger men and women employed in similar jobs with similar training and experience, women are still more likely to earn salaries at the lower end of the salary scale and men at the upper end (Figure 8). This is especially true in museum work settings, but it is also seen in academic settings. There appears to be a somewhat greater gender equity in salaries in the private sector and, especially, in government work settings.

Figure 8a Figure 8b Figure 8c Figure 8d
Figure 8: Current salaries of professional, non-student men and women who entered the job market in the 1980s in academic (a), government (b), museum (c), and private sector (d) employment settings. The disparity between male and female salaries in all settings is especially pronounced in museum settings. Note also the generally higher salaries in the private sector and the comparatively lower salaries in museums.

It is difficult to tell from census data whether the apparent trend toward greater gender equity in salaries is a correction of earlier imbalances that will follow these young archaeologists throughout their careers, or whether young women will face similar barriers to salary growth as those encountered by more senior women.

A closer examination of jobs in the academic employment sector reveals persistent imbalances in the potential for advancement between men and women. In particular, an increasing proportion of women are hired in non-tenure track positions (Figure 9).

Figure 9a Figure 9b Figure 9c
Figure 9: Current tenure status of professional academics for men and women entering the job market in the 1970s (a), the 1980s (b), and the 1990s (c). Here men tend to occupy tenured or tenure track positions and women show an increasing tendency to occupy non-tenure track positions in each more recent entry decade.

Although fewer men are pursuing careers in academia, it would seem that those who do are more likely to secure one of the decreasing number of tenure track jobs. In contrast, while proportionately fewer women go into careers in the private sector than men, the women who are employed there tend to have more equal access to higher level positions. Moreover, with the exception of CEOs of larger firms, who seem to be primarily male, salaries of higher-level managers in the private sector show greater gender parity than seen in academia. A direct comparison of the salaries earned by people in different jobs in academia and the private sector indicates that the earning potential in private sector positions is at least competitive with, and often greater than, positions at comparable levels within academia (Figure 10).

Figure 10
Figure 10: Salaries of comparable positions in academia and the private sectors, constrasting visiting professors and crew members/chiefs, assistant professors and field directors, associate professors and project managers, full professors and presidents of private sector firms. Salaries of academic and private sector individuals at different levels are, in general, similar, but in upper-level positions the private sector offers somewhat higher salaries than academia offers for comparable positions.

Quite at odds with current employment trends, employment preferences and career expectations among archaeologists still clearly favor more traditional academic and museum jobs. Not only is there a general preference for museum employment, there are also relatively high levels of job satisfaction among both men and women in museum positions, despite their generally lower salaries. Job satisfaction among academics, however, is not as high as would be expected from the stated preferences of most respondents for employment in academic settings. This is especially true of women in academia. In contrast, people employed in the public and private sectors are generally quite satisfied with their careers in archaeology and their levels of financial compensation. There is, however, a strong tendency for government and private sector archaeologists to feel that the training they received prepared them poorly for their current careers and that these careers are not consistent with their original expectations. This signals the failure of many academic institutions in training students to recognize and adapt to the changing nature of the archaeological workforcea factor that has no doubt contributed to the changes in educational trajectories noted in the previous chapter. And as we will see in later chapters, the differences between public and private sector archaeology and the archaeology of academia and museums color almost every other aspect of archaeology today, from the research interests, to the outlets for archaeological information and professional activities, to the sources and amounts of funding received by archaeologists in these different employment sectors.

Melinda Zeder is associate curator of Old World archaeology and zooarchaeology at the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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