Douglas A. Webber, a professor in the Economics Department at Temple University, has explored a wide range of issues related to higher education over the last several years, from the student debt crisis to the dubious value of a name-brand degree. His primary focus, however, seems to lie in the intersection of education and economic benefit. Webber has a compiled an exquisite data set analyzing various aspects of expected lifetime earnings for different majors. Anyone interested in a deep dive into this data will find ample opportunity to immerse themselves on Webber’s site, but the first stop should be the brilliant Tableau graph depicting College Majors and Lifetime Income Distribution Estimates created by Jon Boeckenstedt. This graph makes analysis of different majors and earning distributions easy to analyze.
While everyone should experience the delight that comes with plays around with a well-designed data visualization, I’ve pulled out a few key points regarding lifetime earnings and college majors:
- In general, individuals who do not earn college degrees can expect to earn less than those who do.
- About 75% of those who graduate with just a high school degree can expect to earn less than what 90% of college graduates earn.
- Social science and humanities majors tend to rank at the lower end of the earnings spectrum, with the notable exceptions of Communications, Journalism, and Political Science.
- Sciences tend to rank at the upper end of the earnings spectrum, with physical science majors out-earning life science majors.
- Unsurprisingly, majors related to Engineering, Computer Science, and Finance presage high lifetime earnings.
- Surprisingly, Construction seems to be a lucrative college major.
What’s most interesting is how high the 99th percentile of earnings are across all majors and even those without college degrees. The ranges within each major also suggest a certain elasticity of expectations, underscoring that a given college major is neither a guarantee of easy wealth nor a sentence of certain poverty. Don’t feel that you have to major in Engineering, Finance, or Construction (who knew?) to make a good living.