Paul L. Caron

Saturday, October 5, 2019

In The Salary Race, STEM Majors Sprint Ahead But Liberal Arts Grads Eventually Catch Up

New York Times op-ed:  In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure, by David Deming (Harvard):

For students chasing lasting wealth, the best choice of a college major is less obvious than you might think.

The conventional wisdom is that computer science and engineering majors have better employment prospects and higher earnings than their peers who choose liberal arts.

This is true for the first job, but the long-term story is more complicated.

The advantage for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors fades steadily after their first jobs, and by age 40 the earnings of people who majored in fields like social science or history have caught up.

This happens for two reasons.

First, many of the latest technical skills that are in high demand today become obsolete when technology progresses. ... 

Second, although liberal arts majors start slow, they gradually catch up to their peers in STEM fields. This is by design. A liberal arts education fosters valuable “soft skills” like problem-solving, critical thinking and adaptability. Such skills are hard to quantify, and they don’t create clean pathways to high-paying first jobs. But they have long-run value in a wide variety of careers. ...

Why do the earnings of liberal arts majors catch up? It’s not because poetry suddenly pays the bills. Midcareer salaries are highest in management and business occupations, as well as professions requiring advanced degrees such as law. Liberal arts majors are more likely than STEM graduates to enter those fields. ...

[W]e should be wary of the impulse to make college curriculums ever more technical and career focused. Rapid technological change makes the case for breadth even stronger. A four-year college degree should prepare students for the next 40 years of working life, and for a future that none of us can imagine.

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Notice they don't say the total monetary value of the degree in liberal arts (an unfortunate catch-all for everything from physics to philosophy to poetry to pottery to grievance studies), just that the current salary might catch up eventually.

As well it might from life experience - the "bump" of the practical thing you studied as you learned to study may fade. But enough economics to understand compound interest on a million dollars more salary till then is HIGHLY recommended!

Posted by: Anand Desai | Oct 9, 2019 8:11:38 PM

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