In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure

from NYTs

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. Older workers must learn these new skills on the fly, while younger workers may have learned them in school. Skill obsolescence and increased competition from younger graduates work together to lower the earnings advantage for STEM degree-holders as they age.

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.

More here.

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13 Responses to In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure

  1. Emily Rodger September 27, 2019 at 2:42 pm #

    This article seems like it is giving STEM-focused majors/ careers a negative outlook simply because of the salary depreciation over the years. On the other hand, it can also be swayed that the article gives a bad name for liberal arts majors concluding that the salary expectancy is not as high as STEM majors when it comes to the first job. After reading this article, I continued to read the comment section and many people seemed to be unhappy with the way this article was written. Some people did not like the fact that the article basically stated that STEM majors are not as well rounded as liberal arts majors. Others disagreed with the fact that the article failed to include the stats about students who attended grad school which would skew the data about liberal arts salaries. In the end, everyone will have different opinions. The one thing that for the most part remains constant is that this world is all about money. Which career path will earn me the most money in the quickest amount of time? Based on this article, it would appear that STEM majors would make more money at a quicker rate, but eventually plateau over the years. According to this article, liberal arts careers build up their salaries over time and eventually catch up to the STEM majors. Is this due to changing technology? Is it because most liberal arts majors attend grad school and STEM majors do not necessarily need to? Is it because liberal arts majors are more well-rounded than STEM majors? All of these questions seem to be inconclusive, at least for this article. At the end of this article, the author stated, “But I do think we should be wary of the impulse to make college curriculums ever more technical and career-focused.” This statement appears to become conflicting for me to choose if I agree with the author or not. On one hand, the author has a point in that everyone should achieve the same basic and well-rounded education because those simple communication and problem-solving traits never change in the workforce no matter what career one chooses. On the other hand, I feel as though it would be beneficial to make undergraduate degrees in college more career-focused so that students can achieve as much education about their future careers as possible and not have to go on into more debt going to graduate school. As a sophomore in college, I feel as though I am wasting my time taking classes that seem completely unrelated to my major. I have not even taken a single class remotely related to my major. I also know that these unrelated classes are actually helping me to become a more well-rounded applicant for future careers. In the end, the salary race should not be the focus on what educational or career path one chooses. The focus should be on the student choosing whatever major fits their capabilities and excel at, whether it be a STEM focus or liberal arts focus.

  2. Mia Ferrante September 27, 2019 at 4:01 pm #

    I think this article is important for all college students, and even high schoolers who are still unsure of what they want to do in the future. I know when I was applying to colleges and thinking about the future everyone was going into STEM related fields, and following that trend was something I debated in the beginning but I realized how difficult and competitive STEM related fields are, how much schooling is required, and it’s not something I am overly interested in. After my freshman year I saw a tremendous amount of people STEM majors dropping their program simply because of the workload and the difficulty to find a job in the future because there are so many people in the field. However, I do think that this article does talk about STEM related careers in a negative way. Even at the end of the article when the author claims, “I am not suggesting that students should avoid majoring in STEM fields”, but that is essentially the argument throughout the entire article. STEM majors are extremely hard working and a majority of people in the field are doing it because they want to achieve their dream job, not because of the monetary benefits associated with it. Although, this article is more focused on the monetary benefits of specific jobs, and not what one would truly enjoy doing for the rest of their life. I personally do not want to study and take classes that I am not interested in to get a job in the future that I will not enjoy going to everyday. I did find this article interesting because I did not think that Liberal Arts majors such as English majors would in the long run make more money than engineers or even doctors. It does make sense however, that in STEM related fields that there is always more to learn, no matter what your chosen major is. I know of several adults who are in the medical field who go back to school in their adult years just to get another degree and get a better job that pays better.

  3. Joe Antonucci September 27, 2019 at 6:50 pm #

    The common problem that faces many college students is the difficulty of balancing money with personal satisfaction. A person may love music and want to study music in school, but is having a lone major in music a wise choice? When a music major graduates with thousands in debt, will they be able to pay this off and then afford other things like a house and a car? For some people the answer is certainly yes, and for others the answer is no. So, as it seems, many liberal arts majors are stereotyped for not guaranteeing employment options. For those that do get employed, the stereotype is that they do not make a lot of money.

    It is a sad fact that this stereotype has turned people away from doing what they love in pursuit of money. Money is certainly important, but if you land a job that pays well and you hate it, chances are you will be miserable. On the other hand, someone who makes less and works more but enjoys what they do is considerably more likely to be happy with how they are.

    That’s not to say a person should spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a completely useless degree (because some are undeniably useless) because it’s what they “like” – but it is to say that both happiness and financial opportunity should be considered when choosing a major.

    There is a prevailing opinion that anything that is not STEM is a waste of time, and this article stands against view. Looking at the earnings out of college, STEM majors do in fact make more, but down the line it gets a little more complicated. The takeaway of course is that the liberal arts majors, according to the data, overtake the exalted STEM majors in various ways down the line.

    The liberal arts major may struggle to find his footing, but down the line the hard work that is put in both in school and on the job seems very likely to pay off, while the STEM major struggles to keep up with the constantly evolving technology that nullifies many of the skills they are taught in school, to the detriment of their salary.

    A STEM major who truly loves what he does may be better equipped to adapt to these changes than someone who is only in the field to make money, and is thus probably miserable already.

    The general skills taught in a liberal arts program, however, will grow and improve over time through their application in real world situations, which explains why their salaries increase after many years in the workforce.

  4. Samuel Kihuguru October 2, 2019 at 10:58 am #

    I found this article rather insightful on the balance between long-term monetary value and education in relation to your choice of major. What stuck me first was the statement postulating that liberal arts majors usually close the pay-gap from STEM majors in the long-run. Having been raised in an African home where the stereotype of the four-major-requirement (majors in either engineering, medicine, law or computer science) looms a concrete reality, it was apparent to me that there was a significant gap in the standard of living for these STEM majors compared to pursuits in liberal arts. I was raised fully aware of the fact that in this world governed by laminated green paper, developing a passion in mathematics and science would be the equivalent of programming a cheat code I’d need to defeat the boss of the game – life. However, because of this mental framework I have been deeply disturbed by the need for liberal arts requirements and majors – even at one point restraining myself from announcing the fact that we actually have the unlimited choice to determine our pay grade from the concentration we pursue now, because I saw little value in spending four years on a Visual Arts degree with poor prospects for income and employment. Reading the New York Times article has never been more timely. I am intrigued and find truth in the argument that STEM majors also have their shortcomings. In 2009, the competitive technical and quantitative skills, such as basic Excel and Microsoft Word proficiency, is not what employers on JSON, Python, R and MatLab searchlists are looking for today. But meetings still need to be held, papers and records must be sorted, leaders must arise, and the wave of diversity and inclusion intertwining our practices must be matched with liberal arts majors trained in durable social skills. The 45% retention rate for many STEM majors who pursue STEM-related jobs spelled out how essential administrative roles are to securing a stable quality of living. But it also made a gripping rebuttal to several opponents to the benefits of the liberal arts major, like myself, who fell short of the understanding that our education is a privilege to a vast wealth of knowledge and disciplines in writing, public speaking, teamworking, self-identification and critical thinking that draw from liberal arts subjects and translate into life skills admired and recognized by employers years from now. It is true that 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. The growth rate for STEM majors in the near future would have to make case for its applicant requirement volatility.

  5. Tiffany Lyn October 3, 2019 at 12:25 am #

    A false ideology exists that philosophy, religious studies, and other liberal arts majors aren’t lucrative majors. This article explained that first jobs for liberal arts majors aren’t as well-paying as first jobs for STEM majors. In the long run liberal arts majors earn higher salaries which makes sense because technology/science progress rapidly. It’s hard for STEM majors to keep up with technological changes 20 years after graduating. Older STEM workers are less appealing in the job market than young graduates who have the latest skills/knowledge.
    I found this article to be biased toward liberal arts majors. It made liberal arts majors sound more competent and well-rounded than STEM majors. Today, I think every college graduate develops tech skills, soft skills and leadership skills through a variety of core classes, work and internships. If STEM majors make more money right after graduation and liberal arts majors eventually catch up then a choice of major is personal preference. I was first introduced to STEM in middle school because there was a stereotype associated with science and computers that it was only for nerds. As a young girl I hated STEM and I thought it was just based on my personal interests, but many articles later came out that toys geared towards boys fostered their interests in STEM (legos, cars, building blocks). Girls toys like dolls and kitchen play sets fostered their disinterest in STEM. I think it’s important to view STEM in a positive manner and keep it appealing to every student. Part of people’s interest in STEM is that it’s innovative and ever changing. There’s always something new to be engineered.
    Every major has their shortcomings but there’s no point in earning a degree solely for monetary purposes. I think it’s important for students to seriously reflect on why they’ve picked a specific major, what job they’re interested in and how it will affect them in the long run. There are inadvertent consequences to the choices we make as young adults. No matter what major one chooses soft skills are important. Critical thinking, social skills and leadership skills are developed over time and are necessary to continue growing in a career. This article was interesting but should be taken with a grain of salt.

  6. Sean Distelcamp October 4, 2019 at 7:15 pm #

    I think it is important to note that the studies in this article are more relevant to college graduates of the past than it may be to us today. For example, the article states that STEM graduates in their 40’s have an average salary of about $125,000 a year. These people would have graduated from college in the 80’s. This information can maybe be used to try to make predictions of what will be valuable in our world in the coming decades but it is important to realize they are only predictions. I also think that today many STEM fields are very reluctant to hire older people and that may be one reason for the dip in average salary. But while a STEM education obtained in the 80’s may not be as valuable now, who is to say that the STEM fields studied today will not be more enduring in the years to come. I also do not believe that the study said if it did or did not take inflation into account when calculating these salaries over time. For this reason, and for investing purposes, money gained early in ones career is much more valuable than money gained later on.
    What this does emphasize is the need to be well rounded. Whatever you study, no one knows for sure what shape the world and your career path will take in the future. It is important that even if we specialize in a certain field, we also learn the “soft skills” described in the article that should be useful no matter what the future holds.
    I personally am studying economics like the writer of this article. With so many fields being constantly disrupted in the world today I have found many of my liberal arts courses in ethics or philosophy to be what I feel have given me the most personal growth that will help me in my career when I graduate.

  7. Corinne Roonan October 8, 2019 at 10:46 pm #

    This article and idea bothers me immensely. In every single college education in the modern day, students in any field develop soft skills as well as skills pertaining to their major. If not, that is a major personal issue and has nothing to do with their major. STEM majors and liberal arts majors are able to grow and develop any of these skills if they are dedicated to growing as a person and a professional.
    The idea that a person’s major determines their success in life is insolent.
    Of course, there are more profitable majors on average, but even someone in the highest paid major could have none of the skills to advance and grow as a professional in their field. At the same time, someone in a lower paying major on average could also not have the skills to advance or grow either. Someone in a lower paying major could have excellent skills to advance or grow professionally that leads them to earn higher salaries than the average. Some of these skills cannot be learnt or taught, rather they have to come naturally to a person. Of course there is always some room for improvement in interpersonal communication skills, but that type of improvement has to come from a dedication within. These skills cannot be taught through Oral Communication classes and other classes with the same goals.
    Students should major in what they want to do; knowing the risks and possible salaries is a part of making that conscious choice. There needs to be personal responsibility in both the choice of major and in the choice to improve as a professional. No amount of classes or soft skills teaching can change a person’s inherent personality and people skills without an internal motivation. With that, no major can determine the success of a person. A person in any major has the potential to succeed financially if they are dedicated to providing themselves with a financially sound future and have the skills to get them there. Whether someone decided to major in STEM, Business, Liberal Arts, or something else, there is potential there to succeed if that person decides that they want to do so.

  8. Kathleen Watts October 11, 2019 at 7:25 pm #

    I think this article raises a very important issue with the rising need for young adults to go to college. At this point, college is like a necessity rather than an option. People often feel as though if they don’t go to college then they will be perceived as unintelligent and unmotivated. What this results in is students forcing themselves to go through college, often pushing themselves harder than they need to to prove that they are good enough to be there. What we find is quite an unfortunate and ironic result. You get graduates who, in the end, are just not that motivated to continue working hard. They see college as the test to get a job to get money. Once the graduate, they just have to continue to reproduce what they learned everyday from the hours of 9 am to 5 pm. However, like Demming states, in most jobs, you have to continue keeping up with the times. My father has been a computer programmer since computers were gigantic screens that covered an entire 2-story wall and only showed that typical “hacker code” you see in movies. Over the years since then, he has worked to constantly keep up with the new tech. In fact, we have a whole bookshelf full of different programming techniques. That being said, despite having started working in the late 80s and never receiving a college degree, my father is still one of the most competitive people in his field. He is often teaching his bosses and younger co-workers how to properly use the newest technology. The difference between college graduates and my father is that my father worked hard to even get here. He was born and raised in England to a lower middle class family. He made a decision in his mid-twenties to move to America. In the mid-80s computer programming was not a field that paid very much in the UK. He left everything he knew to move to a country he had never seen before just to get a job. He still has no problem, despite not having a college degree. On the other hand, college graduates today do not see much reason to continue to be competitive. Many do, and many keep their heads in the books to keep up, but the unfortunate fact is that most people won’t get or keep a job in their major.
    There is a reason as to why this happens: college is not for everyone. Like I said before, college is seen as a necessity to prove that you are smart enough. While many people should go to college to achieve what they want out of life, many shouldn’t. The world is very money obsessed. Everyone wants to keep up with the Joneses. However, going to trade school to be a plumber doesn’t seem like a “keeping up with the Joneses” type of job.What happens is people put themselves through a lot of debt general money loss, and wasted time over a degree they’re not interested in enough to continue working for. The reality is, however, that rates on plumbing and other trade jobs are rising as the need for people working in these fields is skyrocketing. People who take these jobs are not “stupider” than their college graduate peers, and that should not be the basis of why someone goes to college. Rather than purely being about doing what will make you happy, being a college graduate has become an arbitrary social status that will get you money. What we need to do is change our thinking. Once people begin to realize that college is simply an option among a sea of options, we will see a rise in rates of highly motivated people among all careers.

  9. Jackson Beltrandi October 18, 2019 at 11:56 am #

    Ever since I started my college selection process and eventually choosing Seton Hall, I was always coached to go into business because that is where the money is. I was never even given the option not to go to college, it was always assumed of me to go to college because I was one of the few people from my town with a head on their shoulders from my small country town. Not to be mistaken, I love Finance and I.T. and want a future in this field, but this article shows that “the money” can be made anywhere. The major chosen by a clueless 17-year-old does not determine their future in the slightest. Obviously, most students like myself are looking for an impressive starting salary because we want to live on our own, and it can only go up from there, is the assumption. This article rarely mentions Business majors in their comparison, but it mentions that the salaries are highest in midcareer occupations. To be completely honest, I was confused as to how someone who studies History or Political Science can not only catch up, but earn more than a STEM major who can make upwards of $70k straight out of college. I quickly understood that the STEM field is constantly changing, and there is always new information on the most efficient way to complete a certain task in this field. It is harder for someone in their mid-40s to understand the concepts that a 25-year-old learned in college three years prior. After understanding this concept, I had to wonder how those who work in Business and Liberal Arts are able to catch up to the youth in their respective fields. The concepts in a traditional liberal arts education, don’t go bad essentially. Soft skills, such as; philosophy, public speaking, verbal communication, all have little relevance in modern education and are extremely desired by employers. In an attempt to relate this to my personal life, I realized that my education is not only focused on Business concepts, but around personal skills. I have already taken a Public Speaking Course, English, Journey of Transformation, which all have little to do with Finance, but very much to do with understanding the personal self and developing these well-rounded soft skills, which many employers that are looking for. This article is a wake-up call for me, I should take more initiative in learning more about myself rather than learning strictly concepts and adding more to my resume. The focus of a college education should not only be the concepts, but development of your personal understanding and where your capabilities can excel.

  10. Alexander Nowik October 18, 2019 at 12:23 pm #

    While this is an interesting article I do think the title is misleading. The data used is for “social sciences”, which the article points out includes economics and political science. This is far shot from just “English Majors”. The article dose correctly identify that many of these degrees qualify people for roles in management, but I think that really does go towards the economics or political science part. I don’t feel this article does a good job of actually convincing me English Major might be worth more than a STEM degree. Another issue is that the difference in salary between social science majors and stem majors, (40yrs old), is not that significant. ($131,154 for SS, $124,458 for STEM). The difference between starting salaries is more significant ($61,744 for STEM, $45,032 for SS) with that extra 15k being of a bigger impact as it will likely be going towards paying off college debt (something you want payed off quickly). If anything I think that this article, with the facts and stats it brought forward, made me think going into STEM is even a better idea than I had thought previously.

  11. Stephen Hoffman October 18, 2019 at 5:47 pm #

    This article hits particularly close to home for me. As a student whose majors are Political Science and History with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies, I am faced with constant reminders about how unlikely it will be for me to find a job, or how it is foolish to have majors in the humanities because they will lead to a life of mediocre income. There is a shifting movement around both the country and the world towards STEM. STEM-specific schools are being opened up and advertised, colleges and universities are devoting more and more funds to STEM fields while cutting humanities, and high school courses are pushing more STEM classes over extra courses in the social sciences. This commonly leaves students lacking the very important skills that the humanities teach. As a student that has aspired to go to law school for many years, my comeback to the individuals who say that I will never make any money is that the median starting salaries after graduation of the law schools I am looking at attending are well into the six figure range, but that is normally tossed aside. It is encouraging to be reminded that there are options for those of us who do not aspire to be engineers or doctors.
    As an individual who was never particularly strong in the fields of science and mathematics, it is disparaging to be reminded of the unfortunate opinions of these fields. I could always get by in a math class, but it would typically be a dreadful experience that I always hated working on. I once had a professor say that the STEM fields could teach you how to clone a dinosaur, but the humanities will possess the resources to let you know why that is probably not a good idea. It is important to be reminded of these facts and imperative to reinforce the importance of social sciences in our educational system.
    I am also staunchly opposed to the idea of “soft skills”. Skills taught in a humanities class are in no way soft. Debate, being taught to defend ideas and persuade others, critical thinking, and leadership are skills that every professional individual needs to possess. I personally dislike this term, and believe that these skills need to be emphasized to youth just as much as STEM skills.

  12. Kevin Orcutt October 18, 2019 at 7:51 pm #

    I think this article had a poor ending as to what the author was trying to accomplish in the text. He starts off by talking about trying to show kids their choices for college I terms of the money they will be making in certain fields. He then ends it without wrapping up what he originally stated by saying that colleges need to be less technically focused on specific fields and be broader which does not coincide with the rest of the article. This was very confusing since the article was about the monetary value a person will receive out of two different fields. That part was very enlightening to me specifically in talking about STEM fields versus careers in liberal arts majors which is a wide variety. I am going into the management field of business and this article directly speaks of it in the comparison. I was always under the impression of the fact that STEM majors made more money because of the ever-growing world. Skills that can advance our technology and understanding of the world are highly sought after because there is a never ending expansion. It also because of that never ending expansion that gives the major that I am going to be in the chance to catch up with their pay as the article claims. STEM majors must constantly learn new theories that my major does not require as heavily as STEM. Things that were groundbreaking 10 years ago are obsolete today in STEM where the same basic theories of business and other liberal arts degrees hardly change. Things like economics, accounting, and finance are areas that don’t change and the pay increases over the years to meet the same as the STEM majors who must work harder than liberal arts majors to not be overtaken in their career by a younger person that knows the current practices. This gives me a lot of hope for the future and more of a solid foundation to my want to study and get the degree in the field of business. Business is also the area that brings up the average of the liberal arts group according to the article which is also never bad for me.

  13. Walter Dingwall October 18, 2019 at 8:29 pm #

    I have always taken the size of one’s bookcase to be correlated with their “wealth.” “Wealth” in this case being an accumulation of life experience and actual monetary value. With a rounded life, one may find more books to be useful – or, enjoyable at least – and could have the potential to fill a large bookcase with said books. But, there is a monetary cost for those books, and that is why an accumulation of dollars is an attribute of one’s wealth (I also don’t want to go around spreading ideals that are “anti-money”).
    As a Mathematical Finance and IT Management Major, I have tried to follow an academic trail that I believe will best suit my belief in the “grand bookshelf” that I must obtain by the end of my life. By developing analytical and programming skills – the skills that would make interaction with the computer science majors (STEM majors) – I intend to maintain an ability stay as close to the STEM major-types post-graduation as I can, as it might only become harder to start that process later. On the other side of my path, I have chosen to take a major that resides in the business school. This is where the “soft skills,” as mentioned in David Deming’s New York Times article, will be developed as part of my education (besides all of the great business knowledge that will come along).
    Deming’s article focused on the dollar value associated with different majors’ jobs post-grad, separating STEM and liberal arts majors, which I believe my majors to connect the two at some points. Apparently, by the age of 40, income from jobs tend towards each other, evening out the long run playing field. This should be detected by students as a message, telling them to pursue the major they enjoy, as their subsequent job coming from said major will end up paying similar amounts eventually (this statement does not consider the slow start that the liberal arts students are set on, as the average determines).
    I say that one should read Deming’s article as something hopeful regarding their love of their non-STEM major, as I have been reading so widely stated that the most monetarily wealthy people have something in common that generally isn’t so delicately taught in the courses students will attend: they have there money work for them via investment instruments. This knowledge in the field of investment and saving will be the thing separating everyone monetarily. With different majors showing little difference in job income later in life, it is the ones that know what to do with their money that will come out in front.
    With this, I more strongly believe in my idea of the “Grand Bookcase,” and that I encourage a broader approach to what are the important things to learn in life. Those things being: as much knowledge as one can touch. It is the knowledge of money that will pay for the books, along with the job that one obtains (and we really should be pursuing a job, or be starting our own business).

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