According to Ileana Freytes-Ortiz,

< 2% of people in the US have a #phd
Of those, 6.5% are Hispanic
By defending my PhD yesterday, I just became part of the 0.13% in the US that is #LatinoPhD

I find this statistic hard to believe, or if it is true maybe it is intentionally represented to look like a racial problem (although in my opinion Latino is not a race). Regarding my field, almost 40% of references are from Spanish surnames, 40% Chinese, and 20% European. Based on this analogy (maybe false) I think her statement is wrong. Is there any way or any source that can prove her claims?

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    It seems like it's already set here, but I think this question fits better on Skeptics
    – bendl
    Jun 11, 2018 at 15:33
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. As far as I can see, most comments to improve the question have been addressed. If you feel anything is missing, bring it up in a clear manner with a clear suggestion how to improve the question.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jun 12, 2018 at 5:35
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    "40% Spanish surnames, 40% Chinese, and 20% European" Uhhh Spain is in Europe so it is not considered a Latino country (not by most, at least). Maybe you should check the percentage of Spanish surnames from Latino countries and the one from European countries. Same for Portuguese surnames from Brazil (Latino) and from Portugal (not Latino, I think).
    – walen
    Jun 13, 2018 at 7:57
  • @walen they are not considered Hispanics by US standard?
    – SSimon
    Jun 13, 2018 at 15:07
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    @SSimon Latino and Hispanic are different things. If you're counting #HispanicPhDs then you might be right; if you're counting #LatinoPhDs, having a Spanish surname is not enough to tell if somebody is Latino or European. Same goes for Iliana for mixing both up!
    – walen
    Jun 13, 2018 at 15:39

4 Answers 4


This information came from a tweet I shared to express my excitement for finishing my PhD and, in the process, increase by 1 the number of underrepresented minorities in the US with a doctoral degree. I did not expect for this tweet to get the attention it has, but I'm glad it's opened the doors for more in-depth discussions about diversity and representation in academia.

To clarify, I got my information from the following sources:

  1. < 2% of people in the US have a #phd

    –United Stated Census Bureau, Educational Attainment of the Population 18 Years and Over, by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 2014

  2. Of those, 6.5% are Hispanic

    –National Science Foundation, Survey of Earned Doctorates 2016 (this number only includes Hispanic/Latinos that are also US citizens)

These were back-of-the-envelope calculations based on limited information I had at the time. I appreciate that others in this thread have provided further sources of information regarding this statistic. It seems like my back-of-the-envelope calculations were not far from the most recent figures of Hispanic/Latino representation in doctoral degrees.

My goal was not political or inflammatory in nature, I merely wanted to bring attention to the low numbers of Hispanic/Latinos with doctoral degrees, share my excitement for finishing my degree, and connect with others in a similar position. I hope this response can bring some clarity.

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    Thanks very much for posting, and welcome to the site! (And congratulations on your degree!) I'm particularly glad to learn about the NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates, which appears to be a very useful data source. Jun 11, 2018 at 21:48
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    I really am very confused how everyone is projecting some sort of political meaning on the statement "I'm one of only 0.13% in the US." Mentioning race is not, in itself, political. Jun 12, 2018 at 16:00
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    @AzorAhai it is if you live in coutry that race issues are political.
    – SSimon
    Jun 13, 2018 at 6:40
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    @SSimon It's very exhausting to be told the fact that you aren't white is political. Jun 13, 2018 at 14:23
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    @SSimon Contrary to popular white opinion, publicly existing as a Hispanic person is not a political position. Neither is being proud about one’s accomplishments. Jun 15, 2018 at 5:57

The US Census Bureau gathers data on educational attainment of people living in the US, broken down by race, sex, age, and other categories. They specifically include "Hispanic origin" (though they do not consider this to be a "race"). The data come from the American Community Survey and are widely considered to be authoritative.

Here is their data for 2017.

If you look in Table 1, "Educational Attainment of the Population 18 Years and Over, by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 2017", in the file labeled "Hispanic (of any race)", you'll find they estimate there are 235,000 people over age 18 of Hispanic origin who have a doctoral degree.

In the "All Races" file you can find that the total population over age 18 in 2017 was 246,325,000. So of the total US adult population, about 0.095% are people of Hispanic origin with a doctoral degree; even less than Freytes-Ortiz's figure. Also note that "Doctoral degree" may include degrees other than PhD, such as EdD, DD, etc (though not MD, DDS, JD, etc, which would be under "Professional Degrees").

This file also estimates 4,096,000 people of all races with doctoral degrees. From this, I get that 1.6% of the adult US population has a PhD, and of those, 5.7% are of Hispanic origin. Pretty close to Freytes-Ortiz. She may be using data from a different year, or a different source.

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    An extended conversation about the terminology "Hispanic" has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Jun 12, 2018 at 14:20

So, I did a run using Census data, but a few clarifications (which some people have pointed out, but just to bring it all together): Census asks separate questions about a person's race (e.g., white, black, Asian, etc) and a person's ethnicity (that they are of Hispanic/Latino origin, or not).

As someone mentioned earlier, Census does not distinguish between Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish. You can find a CPS questionnaire here. I do think it is a little strange that she alternated between words (though Census does treat them interchangeably, for whatever that's worth).

Okay, so with those caveats -- When reporting poverty by education, Census usually limits to adults over 25, presumably because many 18 year olds will receive college degrees but are to young to do have done so (for example, see Table 3 from their annual report here).

Using Census microdata from the March 2017 Current Population Survey, we find

  • 1.88% of the population 25+ have a PhD
  • of these, 5.7% are Hispanic or Latino (compared to 15% of the entire population 25+)
  • 0.7% of the Hispanic/Latino population 25+ have a PhD
  • 0.11% of the population 25+ are both Hispanic/Latino and have a PhD.

As Nate mentioned, she could simply be using data from an earlier year or from a different source like the American Community Survey.

This is pretty consistent with my priors; however, I'm glad you're surprised -- it means your program must be doing something right in terms of engaging diverse communities. Hopefully that spreads!

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    Nice to find data focused on 25+, as the ACS link in the other answer only has an ethnicity breakdown for ages 18+, which isn't really relevant for a PhD. Jun 11, 2018 at 22:55

I would like to offer two reasons your observations might not match with this data. (Which is what you seem to be implying. You are concluding political motivation - I might just conclude pride in ones accomplishments and in the rising diversity of US PhD holders.)

First, you are likely observing a particular cohort. I am assuming the percentage of Hispanic PhD graduates is going up as institutions become more supportive of diversity. So if the overall percentage is 6.5%, that likely averages some older cohorts with less than 6.5% Hispanic PhD representation and some newer cohorts with percentages above 6.5%. So you might think this number is low, but that is because you don't know as many older PhD holders.

Second, your observation of citations includes many non-US residents. This statistic is about the US. Worldwide, the proportion of PhD holders from various countries is more reflective of the number of PhD slots in those countries. Futhermore, as a side note, looking at surnames also is difficult in the case of women who have taken a spouses' name.

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    @SSimon Please note that under-representation relative to general population, by itself, doesn't imply anything at all about the reason for the under-representation. You seem to be reading something into the statistic about the basic ability of Latinx folks that wasn't intended by the tweet, as the tweet-er herself has said, and also isn't intended by any of the other answers here supporting the statistic.
    – 1006a
    Jun 12, 2018 at 19:48
  • @1006a statistically speaking, is that an alarming value for the situation of latino(hispanic) community?
    – SSimon
    Jun 13, 2018 at 6:43
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    @SSimon Personally, yes, I think the under-representation (and other similar statistics for other groups) is problematic and reflects systemic and historical inequities which haven't yet been adequately addressed by academia and the greater society. (I do NOT think it is due to any inherent difference in ability on the part of individual members of the various groups.) But the question of what factors account for the disproportion is really huge, and not a good topic for discussion in comments here.
    – 1006a
    Jun 13, 2018 at 13:52
  • Agree with @1006a but I would point out to the OP that this is something we learn from sources other than the statistics. :)
    – Dawn
    Jun 13, 2018 at 21:54

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