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Global Survey of Anthropological Practice

By the CASCA Labour Committee

The CASCA Labour Committee is dedicated to examining labour practices and precarious employment in the discipline, educating the membership, and putting forward recommendations to encourage fair employment standards for all Canadian anthropologists.

Last year the World Council of Anthropological Associations (WCAA) conducted an international survey of anthropologists to gain insights on the contemporary state of the discipline. They collected information on the demographics, qualifications and expertise of anthropologists as well as current labour practices, professional development and employment issues. Although global in scope, the WCAA also categorized responses according to respondents’ association membership and provided those data to the relevant associations. 176 CASCA members participated, and while this may not be a representative sample of our membership, the responses are an indication of the broad trends and issues we should be aware of in the field. Here we report on some of the more striking findings about labour conditions in Canadian anthropology.[1]

Lack of Permanent Full-Time Employment

Most of us are aware of the long-term, persistent shift towards casual and precarious employment in university teaching. The scarcity of viable full-time teaching positions in anthropology and the growing number of graduates on the market also mean that many anthropologists end up either unemployed or in jobs unrelated to their professional qualifications.

The aggregated CASCA data from the WCAA survey indicates that Canadian anthropologists are suffering from these trends. Fully one-quarter of respondents report that they are professionally under-employed, meaning individuals who would like to work full-time but cannot (Figure 1). These numbers are echoed by responses to another question, where one-quarter of those surveyed report not having employment that utilizes their anthropological training, either because they are unemployed or not employed in a professional capacity.[2]


We can also see that the traditional pathway of academic employment for anthropologists, the tenure track, has changed (Figure 2). The WCAA survey shows that only 56% of CASCA respondents have ongoing full-time employment (94% of these full-time positions are university appointments). The remainder, 44%, work a mix of non-permanent full-time positions, part-time, casual, and contract-based jobs, including 9% who work as volunteers.


Fair Pay

Even when they have jobs, are anthropologists paid fairly? Certainly permanent full-time positions are usually well-remunerated, but here too we see a large number of anthropologists not being paid in a manner that reflects their qualifications. Only 54% of the CASCA survey respondents believe they are being paid a fair wage, while 30% are certain they are underpaid (Figure 3).


Digging further in the aggregated data reveals some telling connections. If we look only at people with permanent full-time positions, 71% believe they are paid a fair wage. Of those employed in part-time and casual positions on the other hand, only 27% believe they are paid a fair wage. As in so many other cases, it is mostly those at the top of the scale who are treated fairly.

Gender Imbalances

The WCAA survey did not request respondents to identity ethnicity or minority status, but it did ask them to identify their gender.[3] This allows us to compare the relative positions of men and women in Canadian anthropology. For instance, while 31% of women reported being underemployed, only 16% of men did. In the area of fair pay, only 48% of women agree that they are being paid a fair wage in comparison to 61% of men (Figure 4).


The types of jobs male and female anthropologists work also differ (Figure 5). The responses indicate the male CASCA members are far more likely to hold permanent full-time positions. Women are more likely to be found in term-limited full-time and part-time positions. Labour conditions in anthropology are therefore different for men and women and it is women who are more likely to experience precarity.



As we can see, the data collected by the WCAA show that the nature of the anthropological workforce is far more diverse than some would expect. Although the majority of CASCA members work for universities full-time in tenured or tenure-track positions, a significant proportion are under-employed, working for part-time or short-term contracts that pay considerably less despite often having equivalent qualifications. Unfortunately, the WCAA survey does not show us the whole picture as responses were only solicited from active CASCA members. How many colleagues, graduates, and students have been forced out of the discipline because of poor working conditions, or cannot afford membership in a professional association? The survey results here are only a snapshot of one particular slice of the academic labour market.

Nevertheless, we should all be concerned. If potential graduate students were told that one in three of them would end up not receiving pay they consider fair, or if female graduate students were told that only half of them would find a permanent full-time job (but that the men will have higher odds), our graduate programs would be in serious trouble. We need to educate ourselves and our students about the realities of academic labour in Canada today and find ways to encourage equity, balance and fairness in our work.

[1] We use Canadian anthropology quite broadly here as only 70% of the CASCA respondents work in Canada. A further 9% work in the United States and the remainder represent members from 15 different countries.

[2] The latter number likely also contains a small number of retired anthropologists. The WCAA did not collect data on how many retired anthropologists responded to the survey. Interestingly, of the 21 respondents in their 70s, 10 are still working.

[3] Unfortunately the WCAA did not make provision for non-binary gender identification and only allowed respondents to answer male or female.

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