My colleague Elizabeth Merritt’s last blog post noted two facts in passing that deserve to be linked together more closely: the dominance of women in museum studies programs and the significant cadre of museum studies graduates who are “unhappy that they are underpaid compared to the jobs they could get with their level of education.”
As a new study by Ohio State sociologist Donna Bobbitt-Zeher shows, the increasing feminization of any academic field can be (and usually is) associated with lower salaries. Bobbitt-Zeher also shows that “[college] majors that are more popular with women are becoming increasingly dominated by women”—which is just as true for masters-level programs like museum studies (see below) and public history. In other words, museum studies is part of the larger problem of academic gender segregation. As a result, museums should probably be thinking about ways to recruit more male employees and to encourage a better balance among the various academic domains with proactive counter-programming (e.g., more vigorous offerings of, say, science programs for little girls and humanities programs for little boys). These recruitment efforts should be part of the same pipeline from museum-struck 7-year-olds to museum workers. Plus, a higher percentage of male workers in museums could raise the salaries for everyone.
Also, here’s an addendum to Elizabeth’s suggestion that museums recruit employees more actively from their communities. It comes from a 1972 report that AAM prepared for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (Museums: Their New Audience):
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“[Our Committee recommends] the institution of training programs designed to open careers in museum work to persons and groups who would otherwise never have the chance to even to consider such careers, these programs to aim at the very young as well as the more mature and to be aimed at eliminating the academic barrier.”
File under “some things never change.”
Assistant Director for Research, AAM