Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Earnings of College Graduates, 1993

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Earnings of College Graduates, 1993

Article excerpt

Numerous reports based on data from the Current Population Survey, the decennial census, and other surveys clearly establish that the median earnings of workers with a bachelor's or higher level degree exceed the median earnings of those with less education. These data are often interpreted to mean that a college degree is a guarantee of high earnings; frequently overlooked, however, are data indicating that some college graduates earn substantially more, and others much less, than the median.(1) Furthermore, for those developing their education and career plans, not much information is available on the factors associated with high and low earnings of college graduates. This article adds to the available information with a new analysis of the variation in earnings by major field of study, degree level, and occupation. Data on earnings are provided for men and women in 31 major fields of study and 34 occupations or occupation groups.

Data limited to recent college graduates show wide variation in median earnings by field of study. Those who majored in engineering, the health fields, computer and information sciences, and the physical sciences had the highest earnings, those in education, psychology, and the humanities the lowest.(2) Studies covering graduates with more work experience show similar results, but small sample sizes have restricted the possible analyses.(3) The decennial census has a very large sample of college graduates who provide information about their degree levels, but not their fields of study. In April 1993, however, the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored a survey of a sample of individuals under age 75 who had reported having a bachelor's or higher level degree in the 1990 decennial census. The data from this very large sample (215,000 persons) enabled the Bureau of Labor Statistics to conduct a much more detailed analysis of the relationship of field of study and degree level to earnings than any previous survey permitted.(4) Based on that analysis, this article focuses primarily on the earnings of bachelor's degree graduates employed full time. These graduates account for 12.8 million of the more than 20 million college graduates employed full time in 1993 who reported having a college degree in the 1990 census.

The data from the 1993 NSF survey agree with findings from numerous earlier studies: median earnings of college graduates increase with degree level, and at every age and degree level, men earn substantially more than women do. Earnings also increase with age, but significantly more for men than for women. (See table 1.) Because the intent of the analysis in this article is to focus on the differences in earnings among fields of study, all earnings data are presented separately for men and women to avoid biases stemming from fields of study in which enrollments have traditionally been dominated by one sex or the other. Also, to avoid biases introduced by differences in the age distribution of workers in specific fields of study, much of the data are classified into three age groups: young (25-34), midcareer (35-44), and older (45-M) workers.(6) [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] The variation in the earnings of graduates with bachelor's degrees by major field of study also is analyzed using quintiles--the ranges within which each fifth of the earnings distribution for graduates in all fields of study falls. For the middle three quintiles--the range within which 60 percent of graduates in all fields of study fall--those at the top of the range earned about twice as much as those at the bottom. (See table 2.) For young men, the range was $25,001 to $50,000, for men in midcareer, $30,001 to $62,400, and for older men, $30,837 to $75,000. Among women, top earnings were also about twice the bottom, but unlike men, the highs and lows for midcareer and older women were almost the same.


Summary of findings

There is a clear relationship between major field of study and earnings for graduates at all ages and for both sexes. …

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