New U.S. Census Report Confirms, Once Again, That We Should Have All Been Engineering Majors

According to a new  U.S. Census Bureau  report looking at bachelor’s degrees and lifetime earnings, it really pays to major in something technical. Those liberal arts kids are super good at cocktail banter but their friends in the engineering department can retire when they are 40, so who is the real winner?

An engineering major working in business management will earn an estimated $4 million over a working life of 40 years. This is more than three times the $1.3 million that an artist with an arts degree can expect to take home. That is a huge difference! I mean it is great to be fulfilled intellectually for four years and know more than one answer in the British Poets category on Jeopardy but this is millions of dollars we’re talking about.

“Universities and colleges are really struggling with this — how much do we try to inform our incoming students about what their choices are going to mean,” said Robert A. Nakosteen, a professor of business management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Lifetime earnings can tell you something pretty dramatic about the major you are in. And you also have to do something that you like.”

A recent study from Georgetown found that engineers start with a median salary of $75,000 even without a Masters and $99,000 with a Masters. A separate report, also released Thursday by the Census Bureau, found that engineering majors were followed by computer science and mathematics majors who earned about $80,000 annually. Business majors earned median incomes of about $66,000 a year, while liberal arts and history majors earned median incomes of $59,000 a year.

The Georgetown study found that those who aim for a career in the humanities are looking at median earnings of $47,000 without a Masters. The Census Bureau found that a liberal arts major will earn about $2.1 million over 40 years, more than an education major, who will earn about $1.8 million, but far less than an engineering major, who will earn about $3.5 million.

But on the plus side, having a college degree, even a degree in philosophy is better than no degree at all. Plus one Plato! The report found that someone with a bachelor’s degree will earn about $2.4 million over a career, more than double the $936,000 for someone who never attended high school and about $1 million more than what someone with just a high school diploma will earn. And in a recession, those without a college degree fare far worse than those who have one. 

But then on the negative side, women, even if they were engineering majors still make less money than men in any career they pursue.  A male computer programmer or statistician earned a median salary of $84,000, while a woman in the same job earned about $16,000 less, or $68,000 a year. Women make up for 45% of all business majors and they are making $16,000 less than their male classmates with the same degree. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, Anthony Carnevale, women “just don’t get as much bang for their buck with their major as men do.”

Share This Post:
    • Lastango

      A few points:
      First, the notion that any college degree is better than no college degree is based in the economic disaster befalling unskilled workers. I expect there will be a rise in the number of technical/trade school diplomas, and I imagine that skilled tradespeople will do much better than people with unmarketable four-year degrees. Students still need to be careful, because there junk tradeschool diplomas too — cooking school being an infamous example.
      Second, while the unskilled may have taken the brunt of the downturn so far, the shlit is now hitting the economic fan for people with worthless college degrees. Here’s a short, entertaining review of Aaron Clarey’s recent book about crap degrees:
      Third, the definition of a crap degree is already migrating upstream. Got a new sheepskin from a non-top-tier lawschool? should be good for lightin’ fires at the shanty.
      Fourth, a prediction: there’s going to be a dogfight to get into the healthcare professions. Social worker, nursing (all kinds), technician (there are many kinds), and other, similar slots at schools are going to be highly competitive because there’s work to be had, and all these jobs pay steady money.
      Women are used to having some of these professions to themselves, but it won’t be that way when the pickings elsewhere are increasingly scarce. All by itself, men entering fields where women now earn good paychecks is going to have a limiting effect on women’s incomes. That may have all sorts of long-term social effects, including dampening the whole fish-don’t-need-bicycles hallucination. It’s going to be a tough world, and dual incomes will be prized and necessary.