Study: White Males Pursue Majors That Pay the Most

Study: White Males Pursue Majors That Pay the Most

A study about undergraduate majors and their subsequent salaries uncovers unequal pay scales.

Published May 24, 2011

The initial point of the report What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors, released on Tuesday, was to show the correlation between one’s undergraduate major and its potential earning power. The surface conclusion was that in-demand majors, whatever they are, can boost one’s salary by as much as 300 percent more than those that garner the least pay.


But there were unexpected findings in the study conducted by Georgetown University in Washington, based upon 2009 Census data. The information, which wasn’t surprising at all, was that student majors are highly segregated by race and gender, and that African-American males still earn less than white males even when they receive identical degrees in the same majors.


It was the first time that individuals in a census were questioned about but their undergraduate majors, and then the data was studied in combination with salary data. (Read a study summary.)


As for who makes the most money: geeks, of course. A petroleum engineering major can make around $120,000 a year versus a psychology major's $29,000 salary. Childhood education majors make a bit more, $36,000, but that is paltry compared to math and computer science majors pulling in $98,000 in salary.

A startling fact was how underpaid Blacks, and white women were compared to white males, even in high-salary sectors. The study reports that “even in their highest paid major, electrical engineering, African-Americans still earn $22,000 less than Whites and $12,000 less than Asians with the same major. Women tend to hold the majority of degrees in many of the lower-paying fields such as education, but even women with degrees in the higher-paying field of chemical engineering earn, on average, $20,000 less than equally educated male counterparts.


The study found that white men are concentrated in the highest-earning majors, including engineering and pharmaceutical sciences, while white women gravitated toward the lowest-earning majors like education, art and social work. Asians receive the top median salaries in law and public policy ($55,000), psychology and social work ($48,000), and biology and life science ($53,000), beating out white men who have higher median earnings across all disciplines except those three.


The fields that attracted the highest concentration of Blacks (14 percent) and Hispanics (10 percent) were law and public policy. The greatest concentration of Asians in a major (16 percent) were found in mathematics and computer science, while whites were highly concentrated in agriculture and natural resources (90 percent).



(Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Written by Frank McCoy


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