Recent college graduates who majored in math or general engineering had an unemployment rate of 5.9% and 7%, respectively, according to 2010-2011 data of college graduates analyzed by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce that was released earlier this year. That was below the overall unemployment rate for recent graduates, which averaged 7.9% in spring 2011 and double-digit unemployment rates for some social science and arts majors.
The economists examine the large differences in labor-market outcomes across college majors in several ways. In one section of their paper, they look at data on wages by college major obtained through the Census Bureau‘s 2009 American Community Survey. They find that among other things, math skills are correlated to higher earnings. “Wages tend to be high for engineers and low for elementary education majors, suggesting that perhaps much of the wage differences between majors are due to differences in mathematical ability and high school course work,” the authors write.
Higher-level math skills depend on a “child’s knowledge of fractions in fifth grade”. Proficiency with fractions is “foundational for algebra”. Unfortunately, American students are not doing very well in this area.
National tests show nearly half of eighth-graders aren’t able to put three fractions in order by size.
The introduction of Common Core Standards and more research on effective instructional methods may improve math achievement levels, but we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, parents may be able to enhance their children’s future earning potential by making sure they understand and know how to manipulate fractions before they leave middle school.