Humanities Indicators
Facebook Twitter YouTube
Workforce  >  Earnings & Occupations of Humanities Majors
 
Effects of Experience on the Earnings of College Majors
(Updated October 2015)

Recent commentaries have suggested that the gap in earnings between the humanities and other fields narrows with additional work experience.[1] The following indicators compare the median earnings of early career and more experienced workers, clarifying the effects of age and additional college degrees. The data show a substantial increase in earnings for humanities majors with experience and additional increases after the acquisition of an advanced degree; however, the degree to which the earnings differential shrinks varies widely depending on the highest degree achieved and the field of comparison.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2013, terminal bachelor’s degree holders (TBHs) early in their careers (ages 24–34) had median estimated earnings of $40,000—the same as TBHs from the arts and life sciences and 11% below the average for all fields ($45,000; Indicator III-4l).[2] TBHs in engineering had the highest median earnings ($66,000), with approximately one in four engineering graduates earning more than $86,000.
  • Humanities TBHs ages 35–54 had median earnings of $60,000 in 2013, which was closest to the median earnings for behavioral and social sciences ($63,000), and 9% lower than the average for all fields ($66,000; Indicator III-4m). The median for engineering TBHs—the highest in this age cohort—was $94,000, with one in four engineering graduates earning more than $125,000.
  • Among humanities majors with an advanced degree (in any field) who were in the early stage of their career, median earnings were $50,000, which is $7,000 (or 12%) below the median for ADHs from all fields (Indicator III-4n). Engineering graduates with advanced degrees had the highest median earnings in this age cohort ($81,000), with one in four engineering graduates earning more than $101,000.
  • The median earnings for more experienced advanced degree holders (ADHs, ages 35–64) with majors in the humanities were $77,000, which is $9,000 (or 10%) below the median for graduates from all fields (Indicator III-4o). Engineering ADHs had the highest median earnings in this age cohort ($111,000), but the top salaries of life sciences graduates tended to be greater (with one in four graduates earning more than $191,000).
  • In four out of the six fields whose TBHs ages 24–34 had higher median earnings than the humanities (business, engineering, health and medical sciences, and multidisciplinary and general sciences), the earnings gap was less pronounced (in percentage terms) for humanities majors with greater work experience (those ages 35–54; Indicator III-4p).
  • While the median earnings of TBH arts majors were identical to those of TBH humanities majors early in their careers, with greater experience humanities majors reported higher median earnings than their counterparts in the arts. The earnings advantage of TBH humanities majors relative to TBH education majors was even more pronounced among later-career workers.
  • Only in comparison to life and physical sciences TBHs did humanities majors lose economic ground the longer they remained in the workplace. The gap between the humanities and the life sciences grew eight percentage points, while the gap between the humanities and the physical sciences increased by 13 percentage points.
  • Among graduates with advanced degrees, the gap in median earnings between the humanities and other fields was narrower for those with greater work experience for four of the seven fields whose graduates enjoyed an early career earnings advantage over humanities graduates. The gap narrowed two to eight percentage points relative to graduates from the behavioral and social sciences, business, engineering, and the health and medical sciences. Relative to two other fields (arts and education), where younger ADHs with bachelor’s degrees from the humanities already had higher median earnings, older humanities ADHs did even better.
  • As they gained work experience, humanities graduates with advanced degrees lost economic ground relative to three science fields: multidisciplinary and general science (where the gap increased three percentage points), the physical sciences (with an expansion of nine percentage points), and the life sciences (with an increase of 11 percentage points).
III-4l: Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree, Ages 24–34, by Field of Major, 2013*

* Full-time workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk.

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

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/III-4l.xls../cmsData/ppt/III-4l.ppt../cmsData/pdf/III-4l.pdf
III-4m: Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree, Ages 35–54, by Field of Major, 2013*

* Full-time workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk.

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

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/III-4m.xls../cmsData/ppt/III-4m.ppt../cmsData/pdf/III-4m.pdf
III-4n: Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with an Advanced Degree (in Any Field), Ages 24–34, by Field of Undergraduate Major, 2013*

* Full-time workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk.

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

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/III-4n.xls../cmsData/ppt/III-4n.ppt../cmsData/pdf/III-4n.pdf
III-4o: Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with an Advanced Degree (in Any Field), Ages 35–54, by Field of Undergraduate Major*, 2013

* Full-time workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk.

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

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/III-4o.xls../cmsData/ppt/III-4o.ppt../cmsData/pdf/III-4o.pdf
III-4p: Percentage Difference between Median Earnings of Undergraduate Humanities Majors and Majors in Other Major Academic Fields (Full-Time Workers), by Level of Experience and 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. Advanced degree may be in any field. The earnings gap is calculated as the difference between the median earnings of humanities majors and the median earnings of majors of the comparison field, expressed as a share of the comparison field’s median earnings. For an inventory of the particular degree programs included under each of the broad academic fields to which the graph refers, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk.
**No gap between this field and the humanities for younger terminal bachelor’s degree holders.

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

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/III-4p.xls../cmsData/ppt/III-4p.ppt../cmsData/pdf/III-4p.pdf

Endnotes

[1] Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly, Liberal Arts Degrees and Their Value in the Employment Market (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2015).
[2] The American Community Survey, which yields the data on which these indicators are based, does not ask respondents about their amount of work experience. Thus the Humanities Indicators uses age to distinguish between workers who are in the first years of their career and those who are more experienced. Age and work experience are not perfectly correlated, but age does provide an approximate measure of work experience that allows the Humanities Indicators to examine the effect of this experience on unemployment and earnings of humanities majors.