The college majors most and least likely to lead to underemployment


Statistically speaking, two of these students will end up feeling underemployed in their jobs. Photo by Flickr user audiolucistore, used under a Creative Commons license.

Employees with degrees in fields like English, general studies, and graphic design are among the most likely to report feeling "underemployed" at their current jobs. This is according to a recent survey of 68,000 workers by salary information firm PayScale.

Liberal arts majors (I'm one of them!) are used to being the punchline in jokes about un- and underemployment. But more unexpectedly, majorities of graduates with more "practical" degrees in fields like business administration also said their jobs didn't put their education, training or experience to work as much as they should.

underemployed

Why the poor showing for business majors? PayScale notes that in many cases, a simple bachelor's degree in business might not get you very far - a more advanced degree like an MBA might be necessary "in order to set up recipients for jobs in their fields."

At the other end of the spectrum, STEM fields produced graduates with the least likelihood of underemployment. Engineering degrees accounted for six of the ten least underemployed majors. Law, physics, geology and mathematics made up the remaining four.

What causes workers to feel underemployed? Most survey respondents cited poor pay as a leading factor. PayScale also notes that "nine of the 10 most underemployed majors are female-dominated," making underemployment a factor in the gender wage gap. Conversely, many of the least underemployed majors are dominated by men, according to a 2013 Georgetown survey.

Nationwide, about 43 percent of respondents to the PayScale survey reported feeling underemployed.

Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.
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