The state of humanities grads in 2018

Kathleen Escarcha, staff writerKathleen Escarcha, senior staff writer

Competing narratives suggest that liberal arts students either become over-educated baristas or high-powered Silicon Valley executives. Some parents even worry that a humanities degree equals dead-end job prospects.

But a recent report from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AMCAD) finds that humanities majors don't experience drastically different outcomes than other majors. In terms of salary and job satisfaction, humanities grads seem to do just fine, writes Katherine Long for Seattle Times. AMCAD researchers considered both salary outcomes and quality of life by analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Gallup-Purdue Index.

A humanities major myself, I was curious about the state of my fellow grads in the field, so I combed through the report and pulled out seven interesting takeaways to share with you:

1: Humanities majors do not equal humanities jobs. More than a third of humanities majors report no relationship between their job and their degree, compared to less than 15% of engineering grads. Instead, almost a third of humanities grads hold sales, services, or administrative support positions—and 14% are managers.

2: Humanities grads do earn less—but not by much. Humanities grads' median salary in 2015 was $52,000, or about $8,000 less than the median for all college graduates. Humanities grads do, however, earn significantly more than workers with only an associate degree ($40,000) or high school diploma ($34,000).

3: Humanities grads are satisfied with their jobs. About 87% of humanities grads are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 76.2% of all college graduates. Roughly equal numbers of humanities and engineering majors are deeply interested in their work (about 72%) and use their strengths each day (about 70%).

4: But humanities grads aren't satisfied with their salary—and neither are engineering grads. Only 42% of humanities grads say they have enough money to do everything they want. More money doesn't necessarily solve the problem, though. Just 51% of grads from engineering, one of the highest-paid majors, feel they have enough money. However, humanities grads are more likely than engineers to say they worry about money.

5: Advanced humanities degrees lead to higher salaries. In every humanities discipline, advanced degree holders made substantially more than bachelor's degree holders. When looking at the group as a whole, humanities grads with advanced degrees had a median salary that was 38% higher than those with only a bachelor's degree ($72,000 vs. $52,000). Humanities grads with advanced degrees also have more degree-specific careers.

Related: Who works in STEM? 7 fast facts

6: Humanities majors don't have more debt than other students. College graduates under 35 tend to have either no debt or more than $10,000 in debt. But humanities and non-humanities majors' debt levels aren't significantly different.  

7: The humanities has a gender wage gap, too. Across all fields, women earn less than their male counterparts. But humanities grads are more equal than others. While humanities fields have a 20% gender pay gap, it's smaller than the pay gap in science fields (AMACAD report, accessed 4/6; Long, Seattle Times, 4/6).

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