3 of the lowest-paying majors—and why they might be the smartest to pursue

Data from recent reports suggest that the college majors resulting in the lowest wages might also be the smartest to pursue long-term.

That's because they're least likely to be replaced by robots—and are therefore offer a kind of job security that some higher-paying positions don't have.

The reports, compiled by researchers at Brookings' Hamilton Project and McKinsey respectively, looked into lifetime earnings based on college majors, as well as the specific types of skills required for the corresponding careers.

Help your students choose the right major

The Hamilton Project report found that the highest earning majors are:

  • Finance;
  • Engineering; and
  • Computer science.

The lowest-earning majors, on the other hand, are:

  • Counseling;
  • Social Work; and
  • Early childhood education.

Writing for the Washington Post, Danielle Paquette points out a stark difference between the groups of majors on each end of the spectrum: the top three could soon be replaced by artificial intelligence, whereas the bottom three will not.

Paquette explains that machines will never fully be able to replace preschool teachers—who make about $35,000 annually—because robots do not have genuine empathy or the ability to interpret a child's needs. Social workers—who make an average of $43,000 annually—are likewise in the clear, since their jobs also require a great deal of empathy. The same goes for counselors.

Automation is coming. Is your analytics program ready?

David Deming, a professor of market and social skills at Harvard University, explains that while robots are able to mimic empathy, "they're just pretending. They don't really understand you."

For those high-paying jobs on the other end of the spectrum, however, the future looks uncertain. Amy Webb, the founder of the Future Today Institute, says jobs that don't require empathy—like investment banking and software development—are "next on the chopping block."

That's because automation is developing at a rapid speed, and might soon be able to fully replace stock traders and human engineers.

Soon, software might even get better at teaching itself new tasks than the humans who originally created it, Paquette warns (Paquette, Washington Post, 5/15). 

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