Education and Wages: The More You Learn, the More You Earn

More

Education pays off, in general. But sometimes, so does luck, grit, and natural smarts. The top 10% of earners who didn't go to college earn more than the typical college grad.

bls education wages 3.pngWEEKLY EARNINGS BY EDUCATION/BLS

The highest earners? They're the highest learners.

That is the simplest summation possible of a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics  on workers' income.

The most interesting data compares earnings by education. The above graph looks within groups of similar education attainment and breaks down the weekly earnings of the richest and poorest in that group. For example, the "Not HS" group represents adults who never graduated from high school. The poorest 10 percent within that group earns less than $300 a week. Moving right along the graph, the typical non-high-school grad (at 50th percentile) earns just shy of $500 a week. The richest decile of non-high-school grads make $830 every week. That's more than the typical worker with partial college experience and more than the poorest 10% of advanced degree earners.

Like I said, the simplest explanation for this graph is that education is an investment that you should expect will pay off. Every step up the education ladder results in higher earnings in the aggregate.

But another conclusion you could reach from this graph is that the luckiest/most talented 10 percent of high school graduates who don't go to college (represented by the far right red dot) actually earn more than the typical college graduate. Educational attainment is directional, not destiny.

>

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Technicolor Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In