May 18, 2022

Updated Data: Humanities Research and Development Expenditures at Colleges and Universities (2016 Data)

From Humanities Indicators (American Academy of Arts and Sciences):

2018-05-07_12-27-00Data on the level and sources of funding for research and development (RD) at the nation’s colleges and universities reveal modest investment in the humanities relative to other fields, as well as the much greater dependence of humanities research on direct institutional support.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2016, inflation-adjusted expenditures for academic humanities RD (excluding research in the discipline of communication) decreased for the first time since 2007, the first year for which reliable data are available (Indicator IV-10a).[1] Expenditures in 2016, approximately $435 million, were down slightly (less than 0.1%) from the year before, but were 57% higher than in 2007.[2]
  • Expenditures for academic humanities RD were dwarfed by those for research in the sciences and engineering (Indicator IV-10b). At the extreme, expenditures for health sciences research in 2016 were more than 50 times as large as funding for research in the humanities. In 2016, spending for humanities research equaled 0.6% of the amount dedicated to science and engineering RD (when all scientific fields—including agricultural sciences and others not depicted here—are considered).
  • The percentage growth in college and university spending for humanities research from 2007 to 2016 (57%) was substantially greater than that observed in many science fields, such as biological sciences (including biomedical sciences; an increase of 24%) and engineering (31%). Comparisons between the humanities and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) should be made with caution, however, given the former’s much smaller 2007 baseline value.
  • The percentage growth in spending for academic humanities RD over the 2007–2016 period was less than that for other non-STEM fields (75% for all such fields combined).
  • Federal support constituted approximately 13% of all academic humanities RD dollars in 2016—less than half the share of federal funding in each of the other fields examined here, which ranged from 29% of the funding for other non-STEM fields to 67% for the mathematical, statistical, and physical sciences (Indicator IV-10c).
  • From 2007 to 2016, every field experienced a contraction in the share of its RD that was federally funded, but that contraction was more pronounced in the humanities. Federally funded RD constituted 25% of all humanities RD in 2007. The share decreased in virtually every year since, shrinking the federal share of humanities RD in 2016 to just over half of its original size.
  • In comparison to other fields, academic humanities RD in 2016 was much more likely to be funded either by educational institutions themselves or by not-for-profit entities (Indicator IV-10d). While over two-thirds of a college’s or university’s funding for humanities RD came from the institution itself, in every other field examined here one-third or less of RD was funded this way.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.