A brief just released by the U.S. Census Bureau comparing lifetime earnings across fields and educational attainment has shown that while having a college degree is much better financially over the course of a work-life than not having one, all college degrees and all career paths are not created equal.
Using a measure they call the “Synthetic Work-Life Earnings” (SWE), analysts estimated what people earn in a lifetime based on educational attainment, and what they earn based on their college major and dependent upon their career field.
On average, a bachelor’s degree holder will earn $2.4 million over the course of their work-life, but those who study and work in the field of engineering, or those who work in architecture, computers, or math, will earn far more than that. Someone whose highest degree attainment is a bachelor’s degree, who studied engineering and works in management, will earn an estimated $4.1 million in their work-life. Someone who studied engineering but work in service will make an estimated $1.4 million, compared to those who work in service but hold a bachelor’s degree in social service, who will earn an estimated $2 million.
Regardless of the occupation they pursue after college, those who hold an undergraduate degree in engineering fare better financially than any other field, earning, on average, $3.5 million, followed by those who studied computers and math ($3.1 million) and science and engineering-related subjects; business; or physical science, who averaged $2.6 million each. At just above the bachelor’s degree earning average, students who study social science will earn an average of $2.5 million in their work-life.
Several college fields of study provide students with a SWE of less than the average of $2.4 million. Degrees in communications or biological sciences earn $2.3 million; literature and liberal arts graduates average $2.1 million; psychology and arts graduates average $2 million; and education graduates average $1.8 million.
Regardless of college major, some career fields are more lucrative than others. The fields that provide a statistically significant higher-than-average SWE for graduates of any major are management and occupations related to sales.
Still, adults who hold a bachelor’s degree in any field will fare better financially on average than those who don’t. Adults with an associate degree earn, on average, $1.8 million; those with some college but no degree average $1.6 million. Adults who hold a bachelor’s degree earn more than $1 million more on average than a high school graduate with no further education—$2.4 million compared to $1.3 million. Those who do not complete eighth grade earn, on average, $936,000 over the course of their work-life. Those who complete some high school but don’t graduate earn just more than $1 million.
Adults who earn professional degrees – such as doctors and lawyers – earn the most, on average, over the course of their lifetime, at $4.1 million. Those who hold doctorates earn $3.5 million on average; and those who hold a master’s degree earn $2.8 on average.