Humanities Majors: Happy, Socially Useful, and Well-Compensated

Posted on November 28th, 2016 by

Myth: Welders make more than philosophers. Reality: Happy, social useful, and well-compensated Humanities majors. The data are clear: Contrary to the distortions and in some cases outright lies circulating in our society about the Humanities and the traditional Liberal Arts, persons who major in those areas are not only well-compensated but also highly satisfied in their jobs.  We must, of course, continually make a strong case for the Humanities, as the data from the Humanities Indicators project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences most certainly do.  Yet, with the data in mind, we must also repeatedly ask detractors a simple question: Given the reality, given the facts, why would someone interested in the Humanities choose not to major in them?!

For proof of what History alums already know, see this terrific article chock full of data by the principal investigators of the _Humanities Indicators_ project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Majoring in the humanities equals not only a healthy income but also high levels of job satisfaction. There is the added societal benefit of humanities majors working at high rates in socially essential fields. PS: One of the investigators, Robert Townsend, was formerly Director of the American Historical Association (AHA).

From the article (available to subscribers of the Chronicle of Higher Education, or browse the Humanities Indicators site):

“But income is not all there is to life. The evidence shows that humanities graduates leave college with different vocational values. While it is clear that those whose goal in life is to make a lot of money turn away from the humanities, data from the Department of Education’s most recent Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study show that humanities majors tend to be less materialistic than their peers.

The subsequent occupations of many humanities graduates bring those values together with their subsequent earnings. Humanities majors are much more likely to end up in jobs that are essential to society — such as teaching — but which are traditionally under compensated.  This may explain why, despite the disparities in median incomes between the fields, almost 90 percent of humanities majors reported satisfaction with their jobs after 10 years, and nearly 80 percent were pleased with the opportunity to use their education — comparable with the other fields. Notably, education majors had the highest levels of satisfaction, despite having the lowest level of median income.

It is also important to keep a temporal dimension in mind as well: The gap in incomes between humanities majors and graduates from other fields narrows over time, though it does not fully close. This fits with evidence from a separate (albeit dated) study of employers in the 1980s, who reported that graduates from liberal-arts fields started out at a disadvantage relative to their more narrowly prepared peers, but that over time the flexibility of their thinking and their more accomplished communication skills helped them advance more quickly in business.”



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