Profile and Labour Market Outcomes of Doctoral Graduates from Ontario Universities

by Louise Desjardins

Chapter 1

In recent years, there have been a number of discussions within Canada and in other countries on the value of obtaining a doctoral degree. Some argue that the country is experiencing an over-supply of PhDs relative to the labour market demand for these very highly-skilled graduates, while others contend that Canada lags behind other developed countries in the production of doctoral graduates.1

Crucial to this debate is the issue of how the labour market absorbs new doctoral graduates. According to the 2006 Census of Population, more than two-thirds of doctoral holders who worked full-time in Canada were employed by the public sector in 2005 (67%). This share of workers was distributed across educational services (47%), health care and social assistance (11%) and public administration (9%), with only one-third of graduates employed by the private sector.  

Data from the Census also shows that between 1981 and 2006, the overall number of university professors almost doubled in Canada, increasing from 18,135 to 34,140.2 This increase reflects strong growth in the number of students enrolling in university and the creation of new university programs during that period.

However, this did not necessarily translate into more full-time tenured positions for young professors. The overall proportion of tenured or tenure-track positions for doctorate holders working full-time in Canadian universities decreased by 10 percentage points between 1981 and 2007, decreasing from 79.8% in the 1980/1981 academic year to 70.3% in the 2006/2007 academic year. The decline was even more pronounced for professors under the age of 35. In 1980/1981, one-third of professors under age 35 (35%) held a full-time tenured or tenure-track position; 25 years later, this was true for only 12% of professors in that age category, a decrease of 23 percentage points.3

Although most young doctoral students still pursue a doctorate degree to become university professors, many contemplate other career options outside academia.

This research paper builds on the 2011 study "Expectations and Labour Market Outcomes of Doctoral Graduates from Canadian Universities" to better understand the profile and labour market outcomes of recent doctoral graduates from Ontario universities who lived in Canada or the United States two years after graduation.4 It uses data from three cohorts of the National Graduates Survey (NGS), namely the Classes of 1995, 2000 and 2005.  

The analysis first examines indicators and outcomes for doctoral graduates who received their degree from an Ontario university in 2005 and compares them to doctoral graduates from universities in all other provinces combined. Then, results from the Class of 2005 are compared to results from the two previous NGS cohorts.

The report is organized as follows: Chapter 2 presents the sources of data used; Chapter 3 describes Ontario doctoral graduates in terms of demographic and program characteristics; Chapter 4 examines mobility patterns, with a particular focus on graduates who moved to the United States; Chapter 5 examines labour market outcomes for doctoral graduates, including employment rates, income, industry and the prevalence of over-qualification. Finally, Chapter 6 provides some concluding remarks.


  1. See Auriol (2010).
  2. Includes both full-year full-time and part-year part-time professors, but excludes teaching assistants.
  3. Data from the University and College Academic Staff System (UCASS).
  4. Desjardins and King (2011).
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