Many historians recognize Eugen Sandow (1867–1925) as the first professional body builder. Although he was not the first to person to ever lift weights, he is undoubtedly a pioneer in fitness culture and influenced the modern movement in no small measure.

Speaking of historians, new reports suggest they could be a declining group. Moreover, their potential replacements in the private sector seem to be following in footsteps along a career path much closer to that of Sandow than, say, Voltaire.

Last week, the American Historical Association published a report with data on the academic degree choices of college students. According to the study, the fastest growing major is Exercise Science, while History and Religion show the greatest decline.

In an article citing the study, Reason editor Ira Stoll points out the probable market-driven motivation behind the selection.

The students making choices about college majors may be making rational decisions about their employment prospects. 

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics counted about 280,080 fitness trainers and instructors in 2017, up from 241,000 in 2014 and from 182,280 in 2004.

Compare that to clergy: 49,850 jobs in 2017, according to the BLS, up from 46,510 in 2014 and from 35,790 in 2004.

In other words, if the federal statistics are accurate, America has added about 100,000 yoga instructors, personal trainers, and spin class teachers in the past 14 years or so, but only about 14,000 ministers, rabbis, priests and imams.

While traditionalists will point to the importance of religion and certainly most would agree history is essential for a healthy society, Stoll goes on to point out pessimism does not necessarily have to be the primary response to the data.

What both the gyms and the churches and synagogues seem to realize is that there’s something powerful in getting together, face-to-face, with other people in a physical place. It means putting down our cellphones and getting out of our cars and committing to something that may become a regular habit. …

So if the market for exercise science degrees is booming, maybe it’s a sign of not only of physical health but of market health—a capitalist success of supply meeting demand. Capitalist abundance is often blamed for obesity. Let it also get some credit for the exercise boom.

Stoll makes a good point about the social interface that often accompanies an active lifestyle.

Certainly, it’s too soon to know the outcome of these trends, but in any event there will plenty of work to be done for future historians.

To read Stoll’s full writeup click here.