How Much Is Your College Degree Worth? Let the Census Folks Tell You

More

Psychology tells us that human beings tend to overestimate themselves. We think we're smarter, more popular, and better at our jobs than any objective measure would suggest. So with that in mind, direct your attention to these neat charts tracking college majors and average lifetime earnings from the Census Bureau. They just might tell you something about your future (even if you secretly believe you're way above average).  

Here's what you need to know to read them. The Census folks calculate that your generic worker whose highest degree is a bachelor's makes $2.4 million total over 40 years. But what you actually earn is highly dependent both on what you study and what job you actually take. The job / major combinations in blue make more than the average. The ones in yellow are likely to make less. The ones in teal don't deviate enough to show a statistical difference. 

Census_Synthetic_Lifetime_Earnings_1.PNG

So no matter what type of job you're in, you'll probably make the most with an engineering degree. Computers and math also tend to over-perform. In, pretty much any degree, except maybe biology (included on the next chart) with a heavy science or math component tends to outperform the average on wages. But don't lose hope gender studies and comp-lit majors: If you make it into management somewhere, your earnings may also end up in the blue.

Census_Synthetic_Lifetime_Earnings_2.PNG

And for those looking for a bigger policy takeaway rather than help with their retirement planning, here's what I think should be salient: If we want to improve the earnings of educated women and minorities, it means getting more of them to study the math and science heavy fields in the first graph. No matter if they actually end up doing with their degree, chances are it'll be more valuable than if they go with the liberal arts. 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

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

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In