For the United States, is there a statistic of the age professors have when they are granted tenure?

If such a statistic is not available, is there a way to (more or less reliably) estimate the mean age from other statistics? For example, is there a statistic of the average age at which persons accept their tenure-track position in the US, plus the average duration of the tenure-track process?

Background of the question: When comparing systems of higher education, the age at which professors can approximately expect to gain lifelong employment comes up. For some countries this average age has been reported (42 for Germany, from data in 2003).

(Bonus Q: Does the statistic show a difference depending on scientific field or type of institution?)

  • 1
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professors_in_the_United_States says "As of 2003, the average age at which scientists received tenure in the United States was 39"
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 21 at 15:21
  • 3
    Looking at only professors who actually get tenure could be misleading - a country with exactly 1 professor who gets tenure at 30 will appear much better than a country where all professors get tenure at 50, but I'd argue the interpretation should be the opposite. Evaluating only tenured professors will tell you the age at which professors who get tenure can expect to do so, but it's likely that overall, most professors don't ever get tenure - if that's the case, a non-tenured professor should not expect lifelong employment at any age, regardless of the average age of being granted tenure. Jul 21 at 15:24
  • 1
    The Chronicle of Higher Education probably has some statistics. So too the US Department of Education. I'll leave the search to you.
    – Buffy
    Jul 21 at 15:30
  • 3
    @Buffy I mentioned countries as an example of education systems that the OP might want to compare, but nothing about my comment is specific to any country. My point is that interpreting the average age of tenure as the age at which the average professor becomes tenured is flawed - the average professor doesn't ever become tenured. This disconnect in interpretation holds true regardless of the administrative jurisdiction being studied. Jul 21 at 15:40
  • 2
    Currently, in the U.S., it appears to me (without quantitative info) that getting a tenure-track job in math is a much bigger hurdle than getting tenure from a tenure-track job. And getting a post-doc prior to the tenure-track job is already a severely narrowed channel, considering the number of PhD's granted. Jul 21 at 18:36

This source suggests it takes a minimum of 6 to 7 years to be eligible for tenure, and the average age of tenure in the US is 39. I think this varies by field (or PhD area), which is not discussed as much in this article.

Some commenters have raised excellent points, some of which are discussed in this Inside Higher Ed article. The sample of folks with a PhD becoming a professor is limited, as there are fewer tenure-track jobs than folks with PhDs. This varies by PhD field highly. Because of this, those competing for tenure-track jobs is widened above and beyond the recent graduate pool.

  • This seems to be the most recent statistic right now. I'm still wondering whether there has been any significant change since 2003, which is when the average age was last determined. Jul 26 at 17:29
  • @FelixEmanuel this report might be useful, it has some breakdown of current ages of different ranks of professors. It doesn't say anything about increases, but when looking at the chart on page 4, it appears most associate professors are 40 or younger. I would interpret that as relative stability in average [and maybe a slight decrease] in some ways.
    – Darla
    Jul 26 at 17:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.