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Earnings and Unemployment by Major

November 14, 2011

Wall Street Journal posted data from the venerable Center on Education and the Workforce on earnings and unemployment by college major.

There is a relative floor at $40,000 with a wide variation of unemployment (poor clinical psychology). There is a negative correlation between earnings and unemployment rate, but it might be too presumptuous to presume that high-paying majors get their cake and eat it too. Depending on the methodology, the higher earnings might simply reflect the fact they have a job.

Of course, median earnings is only one dimension. Below shows a messy graph that also incorporates the first and third quartiles:

On average, the third quartile was about 44 percent above the median values. Most of the majors had median earnings in the center of the inter-quartile range.

Similar data is also available for Iowa community colleges.

There are important threads in the data with are important to notice. The top 10 paying jobs are:

  1. Petroleum engineering
  2. Pharmacy/Pharmaceutical sciences & administration
  3. Mining and mineral engineering
  4. Naval architecture & marine engineering
  5. Nuclear engineering
  6. Mathematics and computer science
  7. Chemical engineering
  8. Electrical engineering
  9. Metallurgical engineering
  10. Military technologies
These majors are at the core of the STEM disciplines–though the definition of STEM varies. Even though the notion that there is a lack of STEM majors is perpetually overstated, it is clear that STEM majors still provide high wages  and an average unemployment rate for college graduates.
This data also reminds folks (parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers) that there is a moral duty to ensure every student has an opportunity to enter these fields. Some think it is only a costly effort to encourage students to enter in STEM majors since they may be under prepared and will inevitable drop-out. This could certainly be the case, but the most important efforts in encouraging STEM tends to take place in high school or earlier.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. missdisplaced permalink
    November 14, 2011 5:19 pm

    I’ve been seeing this WSJ report around a bit lately. It’s interesting, but the main thing is lacks is what LEVEL of degree do the respondents have in these fields to garner this reported salary.

    A quick look at the top ten suggest a minimum of a M.S. and most likely a Ph.D.

    Homer Simpson aside, I doubt you would get very far with a B.S. in nuclear engineering. D’Oh!

  2. November 14, 2011 8:08 pm

    I should’ve been an engineer, but really, lawyers have more fun. So still not regretting my decision.

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