Humanities Indicators
Facebook Twitter YouTube
Workforce  >  Earnings & Occupations of Humanities Majors
 
Effect of Experience on the Earnings of College Majors
(Updated February 2018)

Recent commentaries have suggested that the gap in earnings between the humanities and other fields narrows with additional work experience.[1] The data show a substantial increase in earnings for humanities majors with age; however, the change in the earnings differential relative to other fields varies considerably depending on the highest degree achieved and the field of comparison.[2]

Findings and Trends

  • In 2015, terminal bachelor’s degree holders (TBHs) in the humanities who were in the first part of their careers (ages 24–34) had median estimated earnings of $43,000 (all earnings estimates have been rounded to the nearest $1,000) with one in four earning more than $60,000; Indicator III-4l). The median for humanities TBHs was most similar to that of TBHs from the behavioral and social sciences, and was 9% below the average for all fields combined ($47,000). Young TBHs in engineering had the highest median earnings ($67,000), with approximately one in four earning more than $88,000.
  • Humanities TBHs ages 35–54 had median earnings of $64,000 in 2015 (with one in four earning more than $100,000), which was closest to the median earnings for both the life sciences and the behavioral and social sciences ($65,000) and 7% lower than the median for all fields combined ($69,000; Indicator III-4m). The median for engineering TBHs—the highest in this age cohort—was $95,000, 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 $53,000, which is $7,000 (or 12%) below the median for advanced degree holders (ADHs) from all fields combined (Indicator III-4n). One in four early career humanities ADHs earned more than $75,000. Engineering graduates with advanced degrees had the highest median earnings in this age cohort ($80,000), with one in four engineering graduates earning more than $104,000.
  • The median earnings for more-experienced ADHs (ages 35–54) with an undergraduate major in the humanities was $80,000, which is $5,000 (or 6%) below the median for graduates from all fields combined (Indicator III-4o). One in four earned more than $120,000. Engineering ADHs had the highest median earnings in this age cohort ($115,000), but the best-paid life sciences graduates earned more than their engineering counterparts (with one in four life science graduates earning more than $192,000, as compared to $155,000 for engineering majors).
  • The earnings deficit experienced by humanities majors relative to graduates in several other fields was somewhat less pronounced among older workers. While humanities TBHs ages 24–34 made only 64% of what engineering TBHs did, workers in the 35-to-54 age range made 67% (Indicator III-4p). Older humanities TBHs also fared somewhat better than their younger counterparts when compared to TBHs in business, the behavioral and social sciences, and the health and medical sciences. The same pattern held for ADHs, except in the case of the behavioral and social sciences (Indicator III-4q).
  • In contrast, older humanities majors, both TBHs and ADHs, earned less than their younger counterparts relative to degree holders in the natural sciences. For example, while the earnings of young humanities TBHs were actually higher than their age-mates among life sciences majors (with humanities graduates reporting earnings that were 108% of those reported by life sciences majors), older humanities majors’ earnings were lower (98%).
III-4l: Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree, Ages 24–34, by Field of Major, 2015*

* 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, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
III-4m: Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree, Ages 35–54, by Field of Major, 2015*

* 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, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
III-4n: Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with an Advanced Degree (in Any Field), Ages 24–34, by Field of Undergraduate Major, 2015*

* 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, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
III-4o: Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with an Advanced Degree (in Any Field), Ages 35–54, by Field of Undergraduate Major, 2015*

* 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, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
III-4p: Median Earnings of Humanities Majors as a Share of Median Earnings of Majors in Other Selected Fields, by Age, 2015 (Terminal Bachelor’s Degree Holders)*

* For workers employed 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, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/suppIII-4p.xls../cmsData/ppt/III-4p.ppt../cmsData/pdf/III-4p.pdf
III-4q: Median Earnings of Humanities Majors as a Share of Median Earnings of Majors in Other Selected Fields, by Age, 2015 (Advanced Degree Holders)*

* For workers employed 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months. Advanced degree could be in any field. 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, 2015 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/suppIII-4q.xls../cmsData/ppt/III-4q.ppt../cmsData/pdf/III-4q.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, 2014).
[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.