Which is the average age in which persons start their PhD? Is this age in some way related to the post PhD plans a person does?

In my (European) experience I have 3 groups of people, with the relative distributions:

  1. (70% of the total) Those who started right after graduation (let's say when they were 24) without any job experience. Most of them (with exceptions, of course) are a bit fed up with research and willing to try a "real world job experience"
  2. (25% of the total) Those who started 2,3,4 years later (so between 24 and 29), taking a full time phd. Generally people belonging to this group seem to be more motivated for academic career, even if starting a phd when one is 29 years old might be a bit late (or not?)
  3. (5%) Those who start in their 40ties with the idea of taking a part time PhD as an out of job activity, and don't plan to leave their job.

Clearly there are all the possible shades between the above categories.

  • 15
    This seems to be a case of "71% of all statistics are made up on the spot". Anyway, independently of your numbers, it would make sense to me if people who have worked in industry for a few years but decided it is not for them are less likely to long for "real-world experience" than those that never made this experience so far.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 30, 2016 at 15:31
  • 1
    I imagine it depends a lot on the field. For example, a Ph.D. program in medieval literature, where there is little or no prospect of getting a job afterward, may have a lot of those 40-year-olds.
    – GEdgar
    Mar 30, 2016 at 15:50
  • 4
  • @OP, it's not clear what you mean by "started" in some parts of the question. E.g., "started right after graduation (let's say when they were 24)" == graduation from bachelor's program? master's? In my day, you were graduated with BA or BS at age 21 or 22 after 4 years, or MA/MS at 22-24 after 1 or 2 more years, if you weren't going directly into the doctoral program. Starting at 24 would generally be after a couple years in the workforce.
    – shoover
    Mar 30, 2016 at 16:47
  • 1
    @shoover OP is talking about Europe. Here universities often require a master to enroll in a PhD programme, and studying towards your master usually takes at least 5 years. So no, starting a PhD at 24 is usually pretty much directly after what is considered the "undergrad" around here.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 30, 2016 at 17:55

1 Answer 1


There are many confounding variables (field of study, country, citizenship status, sex, race/ethnicity, probably many others) that correlate with both age at doctorate (as seen below) and post-PhD plans. This makes it difficult to directly measure the relationship between age and post-PhD plans.

The median age at doctorate varies by country and by field. Here's some OECD data:

enter image description here

It also varies over time. In the US, from 1978-2003, in the science and engineering fields:

enter image description here

And in the non-science and engineering fields:

enter image description here

See this report for more details.

For the US, we have data on the distribution of students' age, not just the median, and it's also broken down by sex, citizenship status, and ethnicity and race. From 2014:

enter image description here

  • 7
    While strong data for the first part, this is missing the "correlation to future career" part, which I feel is what the OP is really after.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 30, 2016 at 15:35
  • 4
    @xLeitix This is why we have the one question per post rule.
    – ff524
    Mar 30, 2016 at 15:37
  • 5
    If you're going to answer exactly one part of the question, and you're going to justify it by saying that asking two questions is a violation of cite policy, shouldn't you edit away all references to the other question in the OP? Otherwise we'll be permanently left with a dangling unanswered question that can't be asked again lest it be closed as a duplicate of this one.
    – user4512
    Mar 30, 2016 at 17:10
  • Can we subtract the median age at doctorate by the total time to degree to get the median age at PhD start like the question asks?
    – Sam
    Mar 30, 2016 at 17:39
  • @Sam: No, not really. They aren't uncorrelated.
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 31, 2016 at 2:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .