Humanities Indicators
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Workforce  >  Earnings & Occupations of Humanities Majors
 
Earnings of Humanities Majors with a Terminal Bachelor's Degree

Data from the American Community Survey (ACS) describe not only what kinds of occupations those with undergraduate degrees in the humanities pursue but also their earnings as compared with workers who earned their degrees in other fields. An analysis of ACS data, along with job satisfaction data from another federal government survey, Baccalaureate and Beyond (see Indicator III-4j), provides a window on the rewards, both monetary and psychological, that humanities majors’ work affords them.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2013, terminal bachelor’s degree holders (TBHs) in the humanities had annual median earnings of $50,000 (Indicator III-4a; all earnings estimates presented here are for full-time/full-year workers and for the 12 months preceding response to the ACS), while the median for all full-time U.S. workers was $42,000. The national median for all workers with a terminal bachelor’s degree was $57,000, while workers with less than a bachelor’s degree reported median wages of $35,000.[1]
  • Among men whose highest degree was a bachelor’s, median earnings for humanities majors were $55,000, which was most similar to that of majors in life sciences, behavioral/social sciences, arts, and education. The humanities male median was 65% of the median for male engineering TBHs (the group with the highest median earnings) and 82% of the median for all male TBHs.
  • At $46,000, the median earnings of female humanities TBHs were similar to those of life and behavioral/social science TBHs. The humanities median for women was 65% of that for the highest paid women with terminal bachelor’s degrees (those who majored in engineering).
  • Women’s median earnings were somewhat closer than men’s to the gender-specific median for all fields, with the female humanities median being 94% of that for all women with terminal bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, the gap between humanities majors’ earnings and those of majors in better-paying fields tended to be smaller for women than for men, and female humanities majors’ earnings were higher than those of their counterparts with degrees in several of the other fields examined here.
  • At 16%, the gender earnings gap experienced by TBHs in the humanities fell toward the low end of the range found among the major academic fields (Indicator III-4b). (In keeping with the practice of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the gap was calculated by dividing the difference between men’s and women’s median earnings by men’s median earnings.) The gap was smaller than the disparity observed in most natural sciences, business, and education, but greater than that in health and medical sciences, and the arts. The gender gap for humanities was almost 11 percentage points lower than that for all TBHs.
  • The range in median earnings among TBHs in various humanities disciplines was narrower than among other academic fields (Indicator III-4c). At the low end for men, TBHs with degrees in less commonly studied languages other than English (LOTE) reported median earnings of $48,000. At the high end, the median earnings of male U.S. history TBHs were $65,000. The range of female median earnings was quite narrow compared to men, with less commonly studied LOTE again at the low end ($42,000) and three fields at the high end (with medians of $46,000 for art history, English language and literatures, and more commonly studied LOTE).
  • For each humanities major, male TBHs typically made more than their female counterparts (Indicator III-4d). The gender gap in median earnings ranged from 8% for TBHs in art history to 31% for those who had earned degrees in U.S. history.
III-4a: Median Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers* with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree, by Gender for Selected Fields of Degree, 2013

* Full-time workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months. Fields are arranged in descending order of earnings for both genders.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample.

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III-4b: Gender Earnings Gap among Full-Time Workers with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree, by Field of Undergraduate Degree, 2013*

* The earnings gap is the difference between male and female median annual earnings expressed as a percentage of male median earnings. Full-time workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample.

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III-4c: Median Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers* with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree in the Humanities, by Gender for Selected Disciplines, 2013

* Those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months. Fields are arranged in descending order of earnings for both genders.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample.

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III-4d: Gender Earnings Gap among Full-Time Workers with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree in the Humanities, by Discipline, 2013*

* The earnings gap is the difference between male and female median earnings expressed as a percentage of male median earnings. Full-time workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months.
** Languages other than English.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample.

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Endnotes

[1] Indicator III-4a also presents separate earnings estimates for men and women. To present only the median for all workers for each field would be misleading, because gender is a key determinant of wages, and academic fields differ with respect to the gender composition of their degree-holder populations.

All earnings estimates have been rounded to the nearest $1,000.

While Indicator III-4a supplies the median earnings level of degree holders in different academic fields, the supporting table associated with the indicator (and also the table associated with Indicator III-4c) provides additional information intended to capture the range of these workers’ earnings. The range of “typical” or “usual” values exhibited by a population of persons or objects is described through the use of a statistic referred to as the interquartile range, which ignores the most extreme values of a sample distribution. Quartiles are statistics that divide the observations of a numeric sample into four groups, each of which contains 25% of the data. The lower, middle, and upper quartiles are computed by ordering the values for a particular variable (earnings, in this case) from smallest to largest and then finding the values below which fall 25%, 50%, and 75% of the data. The middle quartile is also known as the median. The lower quartile and the upper quartile define the interquartile range. All three values are included in the supporting table.