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Humanities Majors Do Well in Life

You know the stereotype: An idealistic young person majors in art history or philosophy, piling up student loans along the way. After graduation, he or she ends up working at Starbuck’s or Taco Bell (fine establishments), living with the parents, holding forth on Picasso or Plato while bitterly watching TV in the basement.

Well, those who graduate with a major in the humanities, liberal arts, or fine arts do tend to earn less than those who major in engineering or other STEM fields, but the pay gap tends to close over time, according to recent evidence. Plus, humanities majors get promoted to supervisory positions more often and enjoy high levels of job satisfaction and overall happiness.

That’s a rough summary of recent findings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, whose latest report — “The State of the Humanities 2018: Graduates in the Workforce & Beyond” — compares humanities graduates’ job status, earnings, and job satisfaction with those of graduates from engineering, business, and the sciences (including health professions). It’s reported by Scott Carlson, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here is a nice passage:

The study pointed out another strength of humanities majors, compared with others: They don’t see their education tied to a specific field. That might be unsettling at the beginning, but it means that humanities majors are open to pursuing a variety of jobs in a lifetime — like management or other high-paying positions. For example, one million people with humanities degrees work in management, and some 600,000 work in business and financial operations. A quarter of the legal profession is made up of humanities majors. Those fields can pay well.

The report might come in handy if you get into discussions about what majors to keep and which ones to scrap, as the higher education curriculum goes through trimming in the current wave of putative reforms. Majors come and go, and there is nothing sacred about any particular discipline, but we should think twice about dumping fields that are not “practical” in the short term.

One caveat. It’s possible that humanities majors are more likely to come from families with high levels of education and income. Hence the children possess a lot of advantages, including economic security and a network of friends, relatives, and acquaintances when it comes to getting a good job. It’s natural for those at the low end of the spectrum to seek out jobs that pay well from the start.

All the same, the study is good news for those in academic fields presently under stress to prove their worth.

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