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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2 Comments

  1. I found this article interesting because the author took on a perspective you don’t typically hear. The most student in today’s society is pushed into STEM majors and careers with the intent to make money. A harsh reality is that most college-aged kids are no longer concerned with loving what they do, they want to know how much money they will make. The article states that even though initially STEM majors make more money English and liberal arts majors “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.” This leads liberal arts majors to be more fertile and give them the ability to working various jobs throughout there careers. Another interesting note was that STEM majors are increasingly pushed out of their field by advancing technology. Whether artificial intelligence is taking over stem jobs or STEM workings cannot keep up with the latest software, it is clear that it is difficult to stay in the STEM field for the duration of one’s career.

    Liberal arts and English majors on the other hand gradually increase their work overtime and thus increase their salaries. In a world where technology is limitless, there is still a basic need for liberal arts majors to focus on history, morals, and humanity. Many students who seek STEM degrees drop out of programs because they are too rigorous or students realize it is not something they enjoy doing. On the other hand with liberal arts and English majors students are often more passionate and engaged in the material they study. The same can be said or workers in their respective fields. Many STEM employees burn out from the sheer amount of work, long hours, and difficult requirements. These attributes are not as tiring when you are doing something you love. Liberal arts majors are able to work at their own pace and hone in their skills over time. The workload is not necessarily easier but the time old saying of “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life” rings true in this scenario. The article is not questioning which major is better, it is simply trying to shed light on current social biases. People who believe the only way to make money is in STEM fields should read the article and gain some insight into the long term gains of working in a liberal art field.

  2. In a word where school systems have such an emphasis on STEM field, it is refreshing to see the liberal arts are, for once, valued on a bigger scale. As a student that excelled in English as well as majority of my liberal arts courses, I absolutely agree with Deming in his argument that liberal arts endures/lasts longer. The way I look at it the people who pursue English or Philosophy or anything having to do with the Social Sciences tend to have a passion for their work. Not saying that STEM majors don’t have a passion for their work, but most cases those who proceed anything with STEM are “in it for the money.” Which brings me to my next point, success. My biggest pet peeve when it comes to anything STEM is it always gives people the impression of instant money. Law and STEM are seen as the only fields that one can truly be successful in, which is not true at all! Yes, do doctors and lawyers make a significant amount of money? Of course but that success comes at a price especially in STEM. As Demings mentioned in his article, those who purse STEM are always learning so that means you hardly get a break. In my point of view, students should not base their major on “what can make me the richest” but instead think “what will make me the happiest.” Now, if one is fortunate enough to find a career that makes them happy and gets them rich then I salute you!

    To get more specific into the logistics of STEM, I feel as if the programs should require the students to take more liberal arts courses. In the articles it is mentioned how liberal arts majors are able to master the skills of critical thinking and tend to look at situations with more depth while STEM majors tend to lack these skills. It is because STEM majors do n to master these skills, it is harder form them to learn/analyze new problems on the fly. I just think that the liberal arts is crucial to any field a person goes in because it provides amazing life skills as well as expanding ones mind.

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