Choice of college major can mean millions over career, U.S. Census Bureau reports

October 12, 2012


Choice of college major can mean millions over career, U.S. Census Bureau reports

By Camille Ryan
U.S. Census Bureau
This brief provides information about the field or major of bachelor’s degrees, earnings, and selected employment characteristics for the population aged 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Data on field of bachelor’s degree was first collected in the American Community Survey (ACS) in 2009.
Respondents who reported that their highest degree completed was a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, professional degree, or doctorate degree were asked to write in the specific major(s) of their bachelor’s degree. Respondents with more than one bachelor’s degree, or with more than one major field, were allowed to report multiple fields of degree. This brief examines only the first field of degree reported. Identification of the field of degree was collected only for the bachelor’s degree.
There were 59 million people 25 years and older who held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2011.
Business continued to be a popular major, with 12 million people who majored in this field. People who majored in business were also among those who were most likely to be employed full-time, year-round (64.1 percent).
Education was the second most popular major at 8 million, but education majors were the least likely to be employed full-time, year-round (41.0 percent).
Full-time, year-round is defined as working 50 to 52 weeks per year and 35 hours or more per week. Therefore, teachers who did not work during the summer months would not be considered full-time, year-round.
In addition to business, people who majored in a science and engineering field also tended to have high percentages who were employed full-time, year-round.
Median annual earnings varied by field of degree and class of worker for those who were employed full-time, year-round. Class of worker is defined according to the type of employment organization of the respondent or whether the respondent was self-employed. Private sector includes both private for-profit and private not-for-profit employment. Government includes local, state, and federal government employment. Self-employed is defined as employment in one’s own business, professional practice, or farm.
The American Community Survey (ACS) is a nationwide survey designed to provide communities with reliable and timely demographic, social, economic, and housing data for the nation, states, congressional districts, counties, places, and other localities every year. It has an annual sample size of about 3.3 million addresses across the United States and Puerto Rico and includes both housing units and group quarters (e.g.,nursing facilities and prisons).
The ACS is conducted in every county throughout the nation, and every municipio in Puerto Rico, where it is called the Puerto Rico Community Survey. Beginning in 2006, ACS data for 2005 were released for geographic areas with populations of 65,000 and greater.
Field of Degree and Earnings by Selected Employment Characteristics: 2011
The data presented in this report are based on the ACS sample interviewed in 2011.
Click images to enlarge:
Work-Life earnings by field of degree and occupation for people with a bachelor’s degree: 2011
By Tiffany Julian
U.S. Census Bureau
Individuals make a variety of choices over the course of their careers that impact their earning potential. These choices include how far to go in school, what to study in school, and what job to take. This brief explores the relationship between how far one goes in school (educational attainment) and how much money one might make over the course of a career (work-life earnings). It goes into further detail for people whose highest degree is a bachelor’s by investigating how college major (field of degree) and occupation impact these work-life earnings.
The U.S. Census Bureau has developed an estimate of the amount of money a person might expect to make over the course of a career called the Synthetic Work-Life Earnings (SWE) estimate. This estimate is not intended to be a prediction but an illustrative example of the magnitude of differences in earnings based on factors such as education and occupation added up over a work life. For example, the difference between earning $125,000 per year and $150,000 per year might not seem particularly large, but the difference over a 40-year work life is a million dollars.
Bachelor’s degree holder can expect to earn about $2.4 million over his or her work life. There is a great deal of diversity among the 20 million full-time, year-round workers whose highest degree is a bachelor’s. They studied many different subjects and work in many different jobs.
Not everyone working in the same occupational category with the same level of education earns the same amount. Many factors affect the amount of money a person earns during his or her career.
Click images to enlarge

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