Surprise: Male-dominated majors lead to higher-paying jobs

Mechanical engineering students work on a project in May at Virginia Tech. Mechanical engineering majors are among the top earners after they graduate.
Mechanical engineering students work on a project in May at Virginia Tech. Mechanical engineering majors are among the top earners after they graduate. –Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

People in certain careers make more money than others. That’s a fact of life. And, in 2015, men make more money to the dollar than women. That’s another (unfortunate) fact of life.

With this in mind, it isn’t too surprising that people who graduated with male-dominated college majors make more money than people who graduated with female-dominated majors.

Using data from the Census’s American Community Survey that was compiled and shared by FiveThirtyEight, post-doctoral researcher Randy Olson analyzed how the choice of college major affects median earnings after graduation for people under the age of 28.

Olson’s charts make it easy to see that people who choose majors dominated by men make more money after college than people who choose majors dominated by women. Majors that have more men, such as engineering and law, are more lucrative than female-dominated programs, such as education and social work.

Courtesy of Randy Olson
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But there were a few exceptions. Nursing is 90-percent female, but has a median salary of $48,000. And more men majored in transportation science than women, but the median earnings were about $35,000.

We know that women make 78 cents to every dollar a man makes, but that isn’t the issue here. These charts show how the career fields dominated by women are less lucrative than career fields dominated by men.

Figuring out why this is the case isn’t easy. In other charts, Olson ruled out unemployment and underemployment (or people who aren’t actively using their degrees) because there was no significant correlation.

Hmm.

Olson’s last theory is that male-dominated majors are focused on quantitative skills, which are desirable and highly compensated in the job market. This one seems to check out, as shown by his chart that plots average quantitative SAT score and median yearly earnings.

Courtesy of Randy Olson

But, Olson’s commenters suggested some other theories. The difference in earnings could be because society doesn’t value “women’s work’’ as much as “men’s work,’’ or because women aren’t as successful at negotiating their starting salaries. Or, men could be more driven to choose jobs they know have higher incomes because of their traditional role as “breadwinners,’’ whereas women look for jobs with other qualities.

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Either way, if you’re looking to make the big bucks, engineering seems to be the way to go.

h/t The Washington Post

Related gallery: 15 most expensive colleges in New England

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