By this point, liberal arts degrees are generally associated with broke 20-somethings working as baristas in Brooklyn. Yet according to a new report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, liberal arts majors might actually be better off than many of their peers. Although they may earn less in the years immediately following graduation, Inside Higher Ed points out, liberal arts majors win out in the long run:
At peak earning ages (56-60), graduates with a baccalaureate degree in a humanities or social science field are making $40,000 more than they were as recent graduates (21-25). And while in the years following graduation they earn $5,000 less than people with professional or pre-professional degrees, liberal arts majors earn $2,000 more at peak earning ages, when they make about $66,000. […]
A deeper look, however, suggests that liberal arts majors aren’t sharing the wealth equally. For those who don’t go on to pursue an advanced degree, the outlook is more sobering:
Liberal arts graduates don’t fare quite as well when they possess just an undergraduate degree, though. The workers with advanced degrees in any field of study – who make up about 40 percent of all liberal arts graduates, and earn about $20,000 a year more for it — push the earnings averages up significantly. Among graduates with a baccalaureate degree only, those with humanities and social sciences degrees consistently earn less than anyone else, peaking at about $58,000 a year.
At first glance, the takeaway seems obvious: grad school is the path to prosperity. Unfortunately, this report’s findings are driven by conditions that won’t apply to today’s graduates. The high-earning older people who majored in humanities subjects and went to grad school are probably well-established lawyers and professors; average salaries for the rest are more modest. Both professions have taken a hit in recent years: law firms are cutting back, lowering fees, and offering fewer jobs to new lawyers. In mid-2013, the National Association of Law Placement announced that only 85 percent of 2012 law school graduates had a job—that might sound like a lot, but it was the lowest rate in 18 years. See here for more bad news about the job market.