Georgetown University economist Anthony Carnevale has shaken up higher education with his cold, hard facts about income disparities that favor graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields: Those STEM majors pay better. All the talk about the transcendent value of a philosophy degree is so much hot air, at least in terms of actual future earning potential. I say this as a former philosophy major.
My colleague Peter Whoriskey, a math major, made a big splash last spring with a story that cited groundbreaking research by Carnevale. He showed that STEM majors earned up to 50 percent more over their lifetimes than humanities majors earned.
Carnevale sent me some new charts last week that take the argument further.
Math-science majors can earn more than humanities majors even with a lesser degree. Carnevale believes the economy has shifted over the past 30 years to reward academic fields over educational attainment. In other words: It doesn’t matter how long you have studied; it matters what you study.
Here are a few of Carnevale’s findings:
• 63 percent of STEM workers with associate’s degrees earn more than non-STEM workers with bachelor’s degrees.
• 26 percent of STEM workers with associate’s degrees earn more than non-STEM workers with doctorates.
• 65 percent of STEM workers with bachelor’s degrees earn more than non-STEM workers with master’s degrees.
• 47 percent of STEM workers with bachelor’s degrees earn more than non-STEM workers with doctorates.
• 61 percent of STEM workers with master’s degrees earn more than non-STEM workers with doctorates.
“It’s become less about the degree level, and a lot more about what you take,” Carnevale told me in an interview earlier this year. “The whole structure that we all grew up with has essentially broken down.”
Generally speaking, an AA holder will earn about $1.7 million in his or her career; a BA yields $2.3 million.
“But if I get a certificate as an engineering tech - - not even an AA degree - - I’ll make more than 30 percent of the people with BAs,” Carnevale said. “That wasn’t true 30 or 40 years ago. The world changed at the end of the 1980-81 recession. It’s what you study, and what occupation that puts you into.”