The Liberal Arts Major’s Revenge: Better Long Term Earning Power, By George Anders in WSJ

Once people reach their peak-earnings ages of 56 to 60, liberal-arts majors are 3% ahead of the people with degrees in vocational fields, and each discipline’s top 10% lifetime earners, both history ($3.75M) and philosophy majors’ ($3.46M) outstrip even computer science stars ($3.2M).

By George Anders in The Wall Street Journal

Andy Anderegg’s English and fine-arts degrees have paid off with leadership jobs at shopping-coupon site Groupon and now online-content creator Soda Media. PHOTO: ESTEBAN PULIDO
Andy Anderegg’s English and fine-arts degrees have paid off with leadership jobs at shopping-coupon site Groupon and now online-content creator Soda Media. PHOTO: ESTEBAN PULIDO

Six years ago, Andy Anderegg’s decision to major in English looked like an economic sacrifice. When she left academia in 2010, with a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Kansas, the first job she landed was a Groupon Inc. writing gig paying all of $33,000 a year.Now, however, Ms. Anderegg is riding high. She rose rapidly as Groupon expanded, becoming managing editor of the shopping-coupon site in 2012; by the time she left in 2014, she was earning more than $100,000. Today, at age 30, she is executive editor at Soda Media Inc., a Seattle creator of online content, and building up her own digital-media consulting practice. She won’t disclose her aggregate income but says: “It’s better than what I made at Groupon.”

Ms. Anderegg’s delayed payoff is part of a little-noticed bright spot in the earnings picture for humanities and social-sciences majors. It’s no secret that liberal-arts graduates tend to fare worse than many of their counterparts immediately after college: According to PayScale Inc., a Seattle-based provider of salary data, the typical English or sociology graduate with zero to five years of experience earns an average of just $39,000 a year. By contrast, finance majors with that level of experience average $52,000; nursing, $57,000, and computer science, $63,000.

The story tends to change, however, as careers play out. Over time, liberal-arts majors often pursue graduate degrees and gravitate into high-paying fields such as general management, politics, law and sales, according to an analysis by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, a trade group representing more than 1,350 schools. Once people reach their peak-earnings ages of 56 to 60, liberal-arts majors are earning an average $66,185, the association found. That’s about 3% ahead of the earnings pace for people with degrees in vocational fields such as nursing and accounting, though it remains more than 20% behind science and engineering majors.

Ultrahigh earners

Even more striking, however, are earnings trends for ultrahigh achievers across all majors.

Using Census Bureau data, the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project analyzed lifetime earnings for each discipline’s top 10% of moneymakers. It found that computer science’s stars rang up lifetime earnings of at least $3.2 million. Nice work, but not as impressive as philosophy majors’ $3.46 million or history majors’ $3.75 million…

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