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The table above was inspired by the recent Washington Post article “Want college to pay off? These are the 50 majors with the highest earnings,” which was based on a report released by Glassdoor on Monday titled “50 Highest Paying College Majors.” Glassdoor, an online employment website, analyzed nearly 500,000 resumes and corresponding salary reports to determine which college majors pay the highest median base salaries during the first five years following graduation. Most of those 50 college majors are displayed in the first two columns of the table above with their corresponding salaries.
After seeing the Glassdoor report, I thought it would be interesting to analyze the gender composition of students earning bachelor’s degrees in those top 50 highest-paying college majors. Using the most recent data from the Department of Education for “Bachelor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions to males and females by field of study” for the 2013-2014 academic year, I attempted to match the college majors provided by Glassdoor as closely as possible to the 34 academic “fields of study” provided by the Department of Education. The fields of study reported by the government are much broader fields than the college majors reported by Glassdoor, so I did my best to match the two datasets. For example, the Department of Education only reports the number of bachelor’s degrees by gender for the broad academic field of “engineering,” without any details on engineering degrees in the six sub-fields of engineering reported by Glassdoor (electrical, mechanical, chemical, etc.). Likewise, all of the business-related degrees in finance, accounting, marketing, human resources, advertising, etc. are only reported as bachelor’s degrees in “business” by the government. Economics degrees are included in the category Social Sciences, along with degrees in fields like sociology, anthropology, political science, etc. For some Glassdoor college majors like Fashion Design, Biotechnology, Graphic Design, Film Studies, Sports Management, it wasn’t clear what bachelor’s degrees reported by the Department of Education matched those majors, so I omitted 10 of the 50 college majors, leaving 40 majors in the table above.
Here are some observations about the data in the table above:
1. For the Class of 2014, women earned more than 57% of all bachelor’s degrees, and by numbers were awarded 1,068,122 degrees compared to only 801,692 for men. Men received 42.9% of bachelor’s degrees in 2014, and that figure is shown at the bottom of the table above. In contrast to being significantly underrepresented for bachelor’s degrees overall, men were significantly over-represented for the highest-paying college majors as the data in the table show.
2. For example, in 8 out of the 10 highest-paying college majors — various Engineering fields, Computer Science and MIS — men represented more than 80% of the college graduates in those fields. The only college major of the top ten where women are over-represented is Nursing, a field where 84.4% of the bachelor’s degrees in 2014 were awarded to women.
3. For the top ten highest-paying college majors as a group, men earn an average of 72% of the bachelor’s degrees in those fields. For the top 20 college majors, men earn an average of nearly two-thirds of those degrees; for the top 30, the male average is 60.5% and for the top 50 (actually only 40 majors are considered), the average for men is 53.7% of degrees.
Bottom Line: What can we learn from these data on college majors, salaries, and gender? As my AEI colleague Christina Sommers has pointed out, if today’s young women want a quick fix to close the gender wage gap, they don’t need more government regulation of the labor market or corrective legislative action like the stalled Paycheck Fairness Act. Rather, you women should simply change their college majors from low-paying ones like feminist dance therapy to high-paying ones like many of those listed above. The raw gender wage gap doesn’t exist because employers discriminate against women in the labor market as much as it reflects voluntary and personal choices of both men and women in terms of college majors, careers, the number of hours worked, and family roles and responsibilities. As Christina Sommers explained, “Most economists will tell you that employers cannot be blamed for much or any of the gender wage gap. It is women’s choices that are the problem — beginning with their college majors.”
Solution: Change college majors, close the gender wage gap.
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