Sentences to ponder

Graduate students experience depression and anxiety at six times the rate of the general population, Gumport mentioned.

A study produced by Paul Barreira, director of Harvard’s University Health Service, found that “the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms among economics Ph.D. students is comparable to the prevalence found in incarcerated populations.”

Most of the article (the top segment) is an interesting consideration of the economics of Stanford University Press.


I'd be depressed and anxious too. I imagine the ratio of econ Ph.D.'s per financially remunerative positions is pretty high.

Actually its not. Econ PHDs are one of the best paid professions in the world. Any PHD in econ from a decent place can go to private sector and easily make 150-200 k per year. Economics is not like history or literature that do not have any jobs outside academia, instead economics is a form of "social engineering degree" that central banks nad private companies find very valuable (amazon employs hundreds of econ PHDs for instance).

I think that the high rates of depression in econ PHD programs is due to the excessively hierarchical structure of the current econ profession (essentially, top-ranked researchers see themselves as beings above normal humans and grad students are looked down as subhuman slaves). Also, lots of people who do econ PHDs have too high self steem and its crushed by the super competitive reality of econ academia.

I think for a graduate $150k to $200k is too high: is estimating about $92k. The same site is saying top law school graduates get about $180k, which sounds about right. But, the variance is wide I'm sure, as the low end for law school graduates is about $45k, which sounds about right.

Bonus trivia: it's tough being a creator, stressful, low pay, so why bother? It's better to just sponge your rich parents like I do; after you 'prove your worth' by working for a while just to show you can do it, again, like I did. Seriously future 1%-er, why are you still working? Don't tell me it's for fun, or to keep you busy, that's nonsense. That stuff is written for Joe Average who can't afford to quit his job even if he wanted to, not for the 1%. Even Bill Gates stopped working after a while despite his claim that he loved work. Delegate, management, that's fun or not stressful. The actual work, not so much.

180k is the top percentile of law jobs. It's a bimodal distribution generally, with a large normal-ish distribution with a mean of about 60k, and a much smaller normal-ish distribution with a mean of about 150k.

And you must remember that 90% of Yale law schools students pay full sticker... and every econ PhD student at a school ranked even 75 gets paid to do her PhD.

Yeah, but the Yale law school grad still has a brighter future than most Econ Phds. That's even with the 6 figure debt.

I highly doubt that. I’m 3 years removed from Econ grad school, straight from undergrad / no prior work, and from a 100+ ranked program am making $250k / year as an individual contributor in the private sector (most peers in the public sector are around 100k with really good benefits and retirement/pension). I also got paid to go to school vs my sisters 6-figure student loan debt.

Starting salary for a BigLaw associate is $190K, not including bonus. Nearly every graduate of Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago can expect to work in BigLaw, if he or she so chooses. A 2015 grad in BigLaw is pulling down ~250K, with another 20-50K in bonus money.
Throw in clerkship bonuses, not to mention the decent number of grads that opt for Wall Street or Silicon Valley, and it’s unlikely the average expected salary for an Econ PhD matches the average of a T4 law grad.

What percent of law school students fit what you are describing? You are describing graduates of, what less than, 1% of programs and not accounting for the differential outcomes within even the top group. It would be like saying professional basketball is a better career to pursue than being an eye doctor or dentist. Well what percent of college basketball players will have a successful pro career.

The average economics major makes about $70k across all levels of experience though most econ majors cluster in high COL cities like NYC, SF, Boston, and DC. So not that great compared to say the average chemical engineering major in Houston or North Dakota.

The question was whether “*Yale* law school grads” (along with Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago grads) have “a brighter future than most Econ Phds.”

The answer is almost certainly yes. Those that don’t make bank almost always do so by choice (opting for academia, DOJ, CIA/FBI, public defender work, etc.) Granted, the notion that the law could be used to disadvantage the poor, or for (ewe!) profit does vex a lot of Yalies....

The typical econ PhD's analyses, estimates, forecasts are on par with a meteorologist's.

To be fair, the incarcerated population is equivalent in utility.

I'm joking. I love you guys. I do the opposite of everything you say.

I'm a web monkey programming in javascript. I have no college degree and I make more than these Ivy League phds. With no debt! No wonder they are depressed. They must seethe with envy that someone they thought was beneath them is doing better than them. I have the last laugh but they can have the last prozac.

If Econ phds were trying to maximize their earnings they wouldn’t do a PhD

I think that for some people it makes sense to do a PHD to maximize earnings. That is because the wage premium of a Econ, PHD over a college degree from a top 10 department, if you work in the private sector is from an income of 60-80 k to an income of 200 k. Of course, most people who earn Econ PHDs make less than 200 k but the type of people who seeks to maximize income on a Econ PHD makes about 200 k starting salary.

People that earn more than 200 k without any post-graduate degree (such as medical school or dentistry) are actually rare in the labor force.

I choked on my coffee a bit when I read your comment. Are you confusing Econ with art history?

Had no idea. I'm genuinely surprised. They don't forecast very well, and the analytics are not particularly recondite.

The ratio of those employed as economists to new degree awards (PhD) is about 20.8 to 1. About normal for fancy professions is 22.5 to 1. Mean annual cash compensation for economists is about 20% below that for lawyers and about 8% below that for pharmacists.

Very few econ Ph.D.'s are employed as macroeconomic forecasters. Most economists are microeconomists, business economists (a specialty within micro), labor economists, etc. We all know most macroeconomic forecasts are no good.

There you go. From three days ago:
Intern - Economics
Job ID: 844233 | Services, Inc.
The Amazon Economics Team is hiring Interns in Economics. We are looking for detail-oriented, organized, and responsible individuals who are eager to learn how to work with large and complicated data sets. Some knowledge of econometrics, as well as basic familiarity with Stata or R is necessary, and experience with SQL, UNIX, and Sawtooth would be a plus.

These are full-time positions at 40 hours per week, with compensation being awarded on an hourly basis. You will learn how to build data sets and perform applied econometric analysis at Internet speed collaborating with economists, data scientists and MBAʼs. These skills will translate well into writing applied chapters in your dissertation and provide you with work experience that may help you with placement.

Roughly 50% of research assistants from previous cohorts have converted to full time data science or economics employment at Amazon.

I would have thought the stress of econ PhD's to be higher.

Econ is still less hard than the sciences. It is a social "science" after all.

The fact that there is both a left-wing and a right-wing version of economics tells you its not a science. How many Marxist, Keynesian or Austrian physics and math classes you took in college?

Well, graduate students are an indentured, abused population subject to the whims of often petty and malevolent overseers. And I draw that from my experience with biology and oceanography STEM grad students. One has to imagine the conditions for non-STEM is worse given the control over future employment by their masters. It's all very medieval.

(1388) The Statute of Richard II - "And here is the historical origin of the important custom of exacting recommendations: servants leaving employment are required to carry a testimonial, and none are to receive servants without such letter — the original of the blacklist."

I'd say you need to get out of the lab a bit more. Economics students have it pretty easy relative to lab science grad students (this is from my personal experience as an econ PhD grad).

Getting a PhD is hard work and requires long hours of banging your head against the wall (hopefully only metaphorically) and getting nowhere. I guess if you want to compare depression rates, the authors might want to compare grad students to comparable populations, e.g. med students or people in their mid-20s with demanding jobs. There is probably also a selection effect, as well. I found grad school tough, probably experiencing mild depression at times, but if you're striving for something and experiencing setbacks and uncertainty, I don't think you will get through process without experiencing some bouts of depression.

Indeed. The output of research is very uncertain and has enormous variability in quality (and subjective acceptability).

This creates an enormous ammount of risk: an econ PHD might come across something that might result in a nobel prize or might just bang the head against the wall for 6 years and do not get anything out of it.

This situation tends to generate lots of psychological hardship.

Latest data I've seen suggests that med students are clinically depressed at a rate just under 1 in 5 at any given point in time. That suggests they are substantially more likely to be depressed than econ grad students. During residency the depression rate will rise to around 1 in 3.

It is well known that a perceived lack of autonomy correlates well with depression and suicide. We further know that constant evaluation and high stakes terminal evaluations directly foster mental health issues.

Modern post-graduate education is often modeled off medical school and residency. Unfortunately the educational reformer most responsible for turning them into these dreadful affairs, William Steward Halsted, was an admitted cocaine and morphine addict. At the time, it was considered somewhat normal to use cocaine (which was legal) to endure the rigors of training.

1. A study concluded graduate students experience depression and anxiety at six times the rate of the general population. This could be explained by

A) Perceived diminishing ROI for credentials outside academia within certain fields.
B) Understanding the increased workload will not be compensated at anything approaching market rates.
C) Regardless of points A) and B) competition for graduate slots and access to thought leaders within the university will continue to increase.
D) All of the above.

Given the extremely toxic environment that is current academia - at least according to current academics and students - one can hardly be surprised.

Per current academics and students - dozens if not hundreds of daily microaggressions, an appalling lack of safe spaces, the violence that is lack of immediate agreement with their beliefs - it must be a struggle every day.

Perhaps they should try something less stressful? Maybe Ranger school?

Did it. Less stressful? Lol. Still you might be on to least RLC ends relatively quickly compared to post-grad:)

If economist actually learned a real skill that is useful in the real world they would feel less sad. Instead they act like priests from the dark ages. They make grand statements that the peasantry is supposed to believe is the voice of God. With social media, these self-anointed "experts" can't fool the people anymore.

I actually don't think it's causal. It's not like it's randomly assigned who goes to grad school and who does some other thing. I think that depression-prone people are also vulnerable to the lure of the Ph.D.. The common cause (my guess) is the sort of personality that can't be satisfied with what a person has achieved. It makes people smart, and it makes them strive to understand, but it also makes them depressed.

I suspect it's the result of the ideological tug of war in economics. As a comparison, in law school (my experience) there isn't much of an ideological tug of war, as it's mostly about learning fundamentals in different areas of the law, learning how to find what the law is, and learning how to be an advocate (orally and in writing). Sure, we had a couple of CRITs, but that wasn't something expressed in the classroom. In economics, there exist alternative realities. I'd be anxious too.

Then there’s only one solution, correct, ray? Eliminate the ideological tug of war. There’s just too much diversity of thought.

In economics, there exist alternative realities.

You might make a point to learn the difference between economics and punditry.

That our prospective cognitive elites and talented academics are inherently so prone to debilitating affective complaints and neurotic (or psychotic [AND sociopathic?]) disorders perhaps begins to offer us all some explanatory power.

How could self-diagnostic therapeutics be failing these intelligent and worthy people so spectacularly?

If the problems stem from institutional dysfunctions inherent to post-secondary training and formal "education"--more explanatory power.

To quote Cioran again: "A pedagogy worthy of the name should prescribe sessions in a straitjacket." I once thought this sage advice intended chiefly for middle-school students, or for secondary students if they missed it in their middle grades: seems there's a place for it at both the post-secondary and at graduate school levels.

It's very stressing trying to invent another footnote to Adam Smith.

A snarky comment that really does not seem to have any basis in (at least my understanding) of what economics research is.

Because you think Adam Smith is the last word on the analysis of large data sets with Stata, R, SQL, UNIX?

So much data. So little insight. This is economics today.

If you're speaking about macroeconomics I'd agree. But those skills I mentioned came verbatim from an Amazon recruitment ad, and I think they have a pretty good handle on what's valuable insight.

Maybe PhD programs select people who are more likely to get depressed?

and self-selection bias; I don't think the authors are concluding econ phd programs cause depression, per se

Yes, this is it I think.

1. Stress from difficult coursework, slow research progress, teaching load, and concomitant family and relationship stress.

2. Depressed people CHOOSE to go to grad school disproportionately because their anxiety has made their pre-grad human capital worthless or unsatisfying.

Econ Grad school is like prison and crack dens -- they all attract people who don't fit in the real world. The depression rate is unsurprisingly high in all three.

Have you ever met the psychopaths in power inside a university? They were wallflowered, angry dorks their whole lives, and now they can get revenge. Academia is a hilarious (from the outside) cesspool.

This account is 20 years old but still hilarious:

Smart people grieving over the gap between their station in life and where they "deserve" to be.

Just another study that failed to control for or examine certain variables.

Was the rate of depression and anxiety higher or lower

In States which legalized


the dismal science, indeed

I doubt this is specific to economics. At least from anecdotal experience, it is just as bad in math.

I'd guess there is quite a bit of endogenity here. I'll bet it is quite common for those with the potential for high achievement as they realize that potential.
That said, I went to a middle of the pack (or maybe a bit lower) econ phd program. I was pretty stressed. It was hard.
But now I have dream job for life.

And ready to torture my subordinates for life.

I've never done that. Of course my graduate students are mainly in non research degrees (MBA). My mentors in graduate school never mistreated me in the slightest, so even if I was supervising research I doubt I'd torture anyone.

I don't recall my peers being super-stressed - people seemed more stressed at exam time than when at the ABD stage because, well, people tend to get stressed before exams. But that's probably because I wasn't in a top 10-20 program, and people weren't doing juvenile things like ripping pages out of journals so others couldn't read the articles (okay, we had electronic versions of journals, but the environment wasn't ultra-competitive like that).

Based on this paragraph maybe it should be "Economics Ph.D. students in top 10-20 programs" and not "Economics Ph.D. students."

"Barreira’s new paper is based on eight programs in economics, housed at Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and Yale Universities, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California campuses in Berkeley and San Diego."

File the study (at least the one on econ Ph.Ds) under "probably not generalizable even to economics Ph.D. students, let alone all Ph.D. students."

The quoted survey was not a random sample of graduate students, it was a voluntary survey distributed via social media and email (and not IRB approved). A more carefully conducted study (from Germany) found that graduate students experience mental health issues at about 2.4x the rate of the general highly-educated population.

Sorry, correction to an aside in my previous comment: the study referred to in the original post was IRB approved (the publishing journal was unaware of this at the time it first published the study).

The link cites a study of just econ grad students apparently at Stanford, whose job prospects are far better than most. I think indeed it is important what the rate is in other fields. Based on some personal observations, it is my impression that lots of grad students in other fields are also depressed, although I do not know how they compare with the econ ones.

Needless to say, if depression rates for grad students in other fields are comparable to those in econ, or even worse, the vast majorityof the comments on this thread will be shown to be largely worthless, although some of the unpleasant phenomena mentioned specific to econ are going on.

Oh, I guess study not of econ grad students at Stanford but some other population. Anyway, most of my comments still hold.

You're absolutely right... a simple Google search for depression rates among grad students found this 2018 article about a "mental health crisis" among all grad students, not just econ PhD's.

It’s of course a self selection bias. The mentally ill are statistically much more likely to make irrational choices.

Any Ivy League Econ student would have to see banking and consulting and then think: “no, I’ll stay in a climate of arrested development with poverty wages instead.”

Academia is filled with both the petty tyrant and their mentally ill followers, who shudder at the thought of “adding value.”

We should definitely make college free via tax revenues.

The PhD program at MIT Sloan broke me and stole the best years of my life. I have no remaining friendships or professional relationships from there. Worst decision ever.

I found graduate school to be relaxing. Paid research assistantship to work on what I wanted. Fully stocked lab with highest tech equipment. No real job, no kids, could party all night and come into the lab around noon and stay until midnight then repeat.

"I found graduate school to be relaxing. Paid research assistantship to work on what I wanted."

Yes, I found graduate school very relaxing, too. I was a teaching assistant. I did some lecturing, which was a bit stressful, but boosted my confidence in public speaking. Grading (engineering) exams was tedious--and students of course wanted their grades the day after their exams--but it was also interesting. And keeping "office hours" was generally incredibly easy, because few students came by. (It's been a very long time, but as I recall the general reaction after I finished with someone was, "Wow! I should have come by sooner!")

The best thing about graduate school was that I had my own (quiet!) apartment in a very nice large apartment community. That was *much* better than even the best dorm room I ever had.

Detail: The survey’s 2,279 respondents were mostly Ph.D. candidates (90 percent), representing 26 countries and 234 institutions. Some 56 percent study humanities or social sciences, while 38 percent study the biological and physical sciences. Two percent are engineering students and 4 percent are enrolled in other fields.

So what's the "general population" here? The age matched population of those 26 countries? Did they run their same survey in a large age matched gpop of those countries?

Moreover their data suggest 41% anxiety and 39% depression? How does these people function if they have clinical depression? Is it the general impression that 39% of graduate students we encounter are clincially depressed? (If we're not talking about clinical depression here, what exactly are we talking about?)

I'd be depressed too if I majored in the science of cuckoldry, which is what economics really is.

Are there any graduate degree fields without a high rate of depression?

In general, research universities haven't been all that excited about researching their own effects on the mental health of their students. For example, just from anecdata, it strikes me that a lot of coeds seem to get badly depressed during their first semester in college. Grad students at least are adults, while undergrads are marginal.

I believe UCLA has begun a sizable study of undergraduate depression, but hasn't reported the results yet.

I'd be interested in seeing if there are any different effects on mental health of living in a dorm vs. apartment vs. sorority/fraternity vs. at home. What about going away to a different part of the country? Simple things like the weather in Massachusetts being depressing in November might have an impact.

Academics are often good at socially jabbing each other in socially painful ways that trigger depression.

Grad students are expected to be very submissive to higher status faculty. Depression is evolutionarily evolved to show social submission and rank.

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