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SIOP Clarifies Reported I-O Psychology Unemployment Figures


by Stephany Schings Below and Clif Boutelle

Data recently published online by the Wall Street Journal may have created confusion about the employment status of psychology majors and industrial-organizational psychology majors in particular.
A few weeks ago, the Journal posted to its website an interactive table titled “From College Major to Career,which lists college majors along with the unemployment rates for those graduating with that major, the popularity of the major, as well as various salary statistics. The Journal's statistics indicated those obtaining bachelor’s degrees in industrial and organizational psychology have a 10.4 percent unemployment rate with the income for the 25 percentile being $45,000, a median income of $62,000, and those in the 75 percentile earning $81,000.
These figures, cited from the Wall Street Journal, have since been used in articles by The Huffington Post, CBS MoneyWatch, Forbes, NPR and others, but the image of I-O psychology presented by these statistics is misleading. It is important to understand that these statistics only refer to those obtaining terminal bachelor’s degrees not those who have gone on to graduate school.
The source of the statistics was information obtained from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, which was based on information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey. According to the Center, this data is not yet available to the public in publication form, but data released as late as spring 2011 are available online. According to a report published in May 2011 by the Georgetown University Center titled “What’s it Worth?” (ps. 168-174), based on the 2009 American Community Survey, I-O psychology is the highest paid bachelor’s degree in the field of psychology and those with bachelor’s degrees in I-O have an unemployment rate of only 6% of people in the labor force, considerably less than the Wall Street Journal figures.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook states that I-O psychologists will play an important role for organizations in the coming decade, saying "Industrial-organizational psychologists will be in demand to help to boost worker productivity and retention rates in a wide range of businesses. I-O psychologists will help companies deal with issues such as workplace diversity and antidiscrimination policies. Companies also will use psychologists' expertise in survey design, analysis, and research to develop tools for marketing evaluation and statistical analysis."
In a press release dated November 14, the American Psychological Association, of which SIOP is Division 14, issued a clarification of the Wall Street Journal’s unemployment data with further information (APA Issues Clarification on Psychology Employment Data). Among the clarifications, APA states that the Wall Street Journal’s statistics on certain fields of psychology may be misleading in that they made up only a very small portion of the college majors in the sample.
According to the APA release, the vast majority of undergradu­ate institutio­ns that provide degrees in psychology either provide a BA or BS in psychology—not a degree in an area of specializa­tion such as industrial and organizational (perhaps explaining why the popularity of I-O psychology as a major is ranked 135, but psychology as a major is ranked 5th). The industrial and organizational psychology major, for example, only represents 1% of the psychology major group, according to the 2009 American Community Survey statistics from the Georgetown Center.
The category of “psycholog­y” was the fifth most popular among all majors reported, APA stated, with an unemployme­nt rate of 6.1%, which is not much different from biology (5.6%), computer science (5.6%), economics (6.3%), and geography (6.1%).
In addition to I-O psychology being underrepresented in the psychology majors listed, the Wall Street Journal’s statistics are also misleading in that they only refer to those with terminal bachelor’s degree and not those who go on to complete graduate work in the specified field. The 10.6% unemployment rate cited in the Wall Street Journal’s statistics applies only to those who have terminal bachelor’s degrees, not those who have gone on to earn master’s degrees or PhDs. Although technicall­y correct, these data do not consider the employment status of those who have gone on to earn graduate degrees in I-O psychology.
Although a graduate degree is not essential to obtain employment in the field of I-O psychology, it is required by most states in order to obtain licensure and therefore practice under the title of “psychologist.” According to the SIOP website, licensure of the title "Psychologist" and/or the practice of "Psychology" is restricted in almost every state in the U.S. and province in Canada, and obtaining a PhD/PsyD from an accredited university is a general requirement for licensure. SIOP does not require that its members be licensed, but it does require its members to possess a master’s or doctoral degree. Most members have earned doctoral degrees.
Those interested in obtaining graduate education in the field of industrial and organizational psychology or a related field should also read the information on the Graduate Training Programs page on the SIOP website. This page provides a list of self-reported graduate programs in I-O and related fields along with guidelines for choosing graduate programs.
According to the aforementioned release on this topic, APA also has specific policies guiding the undergradu­ate major in psychology­, including Guidelines for the Undergradu­ate Psychology Major and Principles for Quality Undergradu­ate Education in Psychology.
Further employment information for I-O psychologists, including salary and geographic information, can be found in the SIOP member salary survey, available online.