‘math skills are correlated to higher earnings’

by Grace

A study that looked at the correlation between college majors and earnings highlights the role of math skills in this relationship.

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.

Apparently, innumeracy has a cost.

Average wages for some of the most lucrative college majors

I’m surprised at how well a political science major pays, even without an advanced degree.

Average wages for some of the lowest-paying college majors

Considering that the average salary for educators in Westchester County approaches six figures, it’s surprising to see such low wages for education majors.  I suspect that part-time workers included in this and other categories deflate the average wage.

American Community Survey – Questions on the form and why we ask

Related:  Two recent reports on college majors, salaries, and unemployment rates


11 Responses to “‘math skills are correlated to higher earnings’”

  1. Most people who major in political science go to law school. Perhaps that accounts for the high earnings? I also don’t like the conflation of “computers and IT”. What on earth is that? That would lump together everyone from Google software engineers to the guy who fixes PCs out of his van. There is no major called “computers and IT”.


  2. But for political science the “with advanced degree” is ranked separately, so the first column is wages for people just with bachelor degrees. I’m not sure what type of work those people do, but apparently it pays relatively well.


  3. I bet they go into business. There are really no jobs for people in poli sci without an advanced degree. Most of the kids I knew who majored in it (and I knew a lot) went into their family business.

    I am still annoyed at the lack of precision surrounding computing majors. I think it really makes the study less valuable. IT majors typically have little math, whereas computer science majors take tons of math. They are completely different majors.


  4. Education majors in most places make VERY low wages. I am not surprised at all.


  5. “I bet they go into business.”

    I’m betting government employment.


  6. That average wage is not accurate for full-time teachers. It’s inconsistent with a couple of other sources I’ve seen, and it would require significant numbers of teachers earning in the teens. I can’t even see that with only bachelor degrees. I think the low number may be due to part-time workers and nursery school teachers included in that category.


  7. “Government employment” – A few years ago when my oldest was starting to think about college majors, we used to “joke” that the best chances for post-college employment were in the government sector. Not so much today from what I’ve been reading.


  8. “That average wage is not accurate for full-time teachers. It’s inconsistent with a couple of other sources I’ve seen, and it would require significant numbers of teachers earning in the teens.”

    That does sound like it covers preschool teachers. You don’t suppose it also covers some daycare workers?

    “I really think a lot of poly sci majors just major in it because it is interesting, but really intend to work in business.”

    Here’s another possibility–poli sci majors are smart and hence earn more.


  9. Substitute teachers would also affect the education numbers. I think traditionally people sub a lot before getting taken on full-time.


  10. “Including part-timers could be an issue for all of the low paid categories.”

    Yes, and it includes many female-dominated fields.

    And daycare workers could be included. The thing about preschool/daycare workers is that many of them might also be part-timers. I’m thinking of three women I know who’ve worked in pre-school/daycare settings and they were all part-time, although at least one had a degree in something other than education.



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