Arnold Kling  

Plight of the Unskilled College Grad, Long Term

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Another survey available here allows us to look at income from work in 2002 by undergraduate major for graduates in 1993. Here are the 25th and 50th percentiles, respectively:

Major50th percentile25th percentile
Social Science4500029764
Biological Sciences4300030000
Public Affairs3900029500
Education 3400022500

Note that income from work is a product of two variables. First, how much did you work? Second, what was your rate of pay? My guess is that a lot of people who go into education decide not to work after several years. That would really skew the mean, and perhaps the 25th percentile, but I would think that the 50th percentile would not be affected so much. However, even at the 90th percentile (not shown), education majors earn $56,000, which is way less than other majors. In other words, the 25th percentile among engineering majors earns nearly as much as the 90th percentile among education majors. Psychology is the next lowest at the 90th percentile, with $70,000.

At the 90th percentile, business and social sciences edge out engineering, although all three are essentially $100,000 at the 90th percentile. Overall, the 90th percentile is at $92500.

Social sciences and business have the highest interquartile range, meaning that they have relatively high within-major variation in salary outcomes. Engineering and education seem on the low end of within-major variation. I think that it's a coincidence that social sciences comes very close to the overall in terms of 25th percentile and 50th percentile. That is not the case for other percentiles, where it tends to be above the overall figures.

My view of all this is that it confirms my point that "college graduate" is not a homogeneous category. The economic effect of increasing the number of college graduates is going to vary, depending on whether you graduate more engineers or more humanities majors.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
michael writes:

Social sciences may be adding undergrad econ majors, though many are often part of a university's school of business. From what I've read the median income of econ majors is around $40k.

Felix writes:

These income numbers have the feel of being after-FICA, after-benefits numbers. That is, paycheck numbers. I'm thinking that some fields - education? - have a lot of true income hidden outside these numbers.

chris writes:

Do rates on student loans reflect these numbers? Should engineering graduates pay lower interest rates because they are less risky?

YT writes:

The eningeers should pay very little interest not only because they are a "safe" investment, but because its so dang hard to get laid in college. There has to be more light at the end of that tunnel.

Pacemaker writes:

I find it frustrating that the surveys differ in how they categorize the fields of studies, so it is harder to compare the categories in Arnold's posts. To clarify some things for this survey (compared to the one in Arnold's previous post):

Humanities gains history and clinical pastoral care but loses women's studies, area studies, liberal studies and ethnic studies.

Social sciences gains international relations and geography but loses history, pastoral clinical care, social work, and american civilization.

Unlike life science, biological science doesn't have natural resources, forestry, interdisciplnary stuff like biopsychology and environmental studies.

Mathematics includes physical science and computer science and gains data processing.

Public affairs includes public administration, social work, and protective services.

Engineering loses electronics.

Education loses library/archival studies and leisure studies.

Business loses data processing, public administration and international relations.

Health gains dental/medical technology.

For both surveys, economics comes under social science and not business.

Also, there is alternate categorising at

As for other thoughts on the matter, I think that economics majors are skewing the results for social science majors. The mid-career salaries of economics majors are among the highest according to this source:

Mr. Econotarian writes:

If restaurants have to publish calorie counts, colleges should be required to provide these numbers to their incoming students!

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