Salaries of Philosophy Majors Over Time

Salaries of Philosophy Majors Over Time


Philosophy is the “top humanities bachelors degree” in PayScale’s ranking of majors by salary. The Atlantic reports:

Although philosophy majors rank 75th on PayScale’s overall list of majors at mid-career earnings, it’s the top humanities bachelors degree in their ranking—from early career all the way to later career. “We hear again and again that employers value creative problem solving and the ability to deal with ambiguity in their new hires, and I can’t think of another major that would better prepare you with those skills than the study of philosophy. It’s not terribly surprising to see those graduates doing well in the labor market. We’ve seen quite a few executives—CEOs, VPs of Strategy—who studied philosophy as their undergrad program,” says Lydia Frank, the senior editorial director at PayScale.

PayScale has posted the data from its 2015-16 report on an interactive site which allows you to explore the earnings over time for various majors at various degree levels. Here is a modified screen shot from their site showing the earnings of humanities bachelor’s degree holders over time:

payscale philosophy salary data

As you can see, philosophy is at the top.

You can check out the rest of the data here.

 

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Samantha
Samantha
6 years ago

Quick question; Do we know how much of this is a result of gender? Given the salary gap between men and women, combined with philosophy’s gender gap, the salary differential makes sense. Or has this been accounted for?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Samantha
6 years ago

Shamelessly reposting what I wrote at Feminist Philosophers, where the same idea came up:

This idea came up here last year (https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/is-philosophy-more-lucrative-or-just-more-male/); then, and now, I don’t think it’s plausible that gender is the main driver. Quick crude analysis:

– the gender pay gap in the US is about 20%
– the humanities on average are around 50% female, philosophy is about 30% female

So the humanities average salary (S, say) is an equal mixture of men earning 110% of S and women earning 90% of S. (I’m doing some nasty things to percentages here but it’s valid to first approximation).

The salary you’d predict for philosophy is then 70% x 110% S, plus 30% x 90% S, or 104% S. The article linked on DN has the philosophy salary at 120% S. So gender is explaining only c.20% of the difference. (That’s broadly in line with what I got last year.)Report

Dan Hicks
6 years ago

This appears to be all of the detail that they’re willing to give us about their survey and analysis methods: http://www.payscale.com/college-salary-report/methodology

It looks like the model is proprietary, so we don’t really know what they did, including whether they did any kind of correction for gender. But it doesn’t seem like they did that in the simplest, most obvious way (viz, report separate medians for women and men), and I think it’s unlikely that they did anything more sophisticated.

The point I came here to make is that this kind of report is highly susceptible to a fallacy that I’m calling statistical essentialism: http://jefais.tumblr.com/post/123654404838/statistical-essentialism

The salaries-by-major data don’t even have confidence intervals, so they’re actually less informative than the hypothesis test inferences that I criticize in that post.Report

Jason
Jason
6 years ago

I’d like to see further analysis of how much of this is a treatment effect and how much is a selection effect. Philosophy majors have on average higher IQs than other humanities majors, and higher IQs predict higher wages. (You can dispute whether the concept IQ is b.s., but nevertheless, these correlations exist.) Also, since philosophy is seen as a relatively hard major compared to other humanities, it’s likely to be attracting more conscientious students. Etc.

This is relevant, too, for giving students advice about their long-term career outcomes. If it turns out it’s primarily a selection effect, then less intelligent or conscientious students should not infer from this that majoring in philosophy is a good bet for them. Of course, no one has said that yet, but I just want to pre-empt this.Report

Unemployedphil
Unemployedphil
Reply to  Jason
6 years ago

“Also, since philosophy is seen as a relatively hard major compared to other humanities, it’s likely to be attracting more conscientious students” is pure conjecture.Report

philosophyrobot
philosophyrobot
Reply to  Jason
6 years ago

“Philosophy major have on average higher IQs” is also pure conjecture. Unless, you can link to studies that show this?Report

Pedant
Pedant
Reply to  philosophyrobot
6 years ago

That these things are pure conjecture is pure conjecture!

(More seriously: saying p and not giving your evidence that p does not make your assertion that p pure conjecture, it just means that you have not – on this occasion – given your audience reason to think it is something other than pure conjecture.)Report

Dan Hicks
Reply to  Jason
6 years ago

The inference from correlations between majors and higher wages to advice for individual students involves statistical essentialism. See the link in my comment at 7:05pm last night.Report

JCM
JCM
6 years ago

Good news, I suppose, though I fear it means philosophy departments are raising sophists rather than philosophers. If the followers of Socrates are as worldly rich as this report suggests, the world is a far more reasonable place than I think. I’ve never heard of a horse grateful for gadflies, though.Report

CDF
CDF
6 years ago

Samantha and the Feminist Philosophers blog raise a good question about the role of disproportionate representation of privileged identity groups (maleness, whiteness, non-disabledness, etc.).

Moreover, if you look at the data for humanities MAs (I can’t enclose a picture here, but I’ve tweeted it to Justin), philosophy MAs are both doing less well than philosophy BAs [$97k for BAs; $81.9k for MAs] and losing their considerable margin to the other humanities, coming in second to english language and literature students [$83.7k for english; 81.9k for philosophy]. I take these both to suggest that a lot of the inflation we’re seeing for philosophy BAs may have to do with the fact that philosophy is seen, moreso than other humanities, as a gateway program for many professional degrees such as law or business. (And, this would likely feed back into the probable gender wage gap confounds).Report

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
6 years ago

This is a follow up to David Wallace’s comment. I would be surprised if historically predominantly male professions did not have higher pay on average than historically higher female ones, e.g. teaching and nursing. If that’s right, then it might still be true that the pay gap between what philosophy majors get paid relative to other majors in the humanities is almost entirely explained by whatever mechanisms explain the gender pay gap. (I’m thinking the possible gender-based explanation would be partly indirect, with women philosophy majors getting paid more than other women humanities majors because people with their pedigree have inflated wages because predominantly male.)
It may be that the statistics on gender pay gap already factor this in, so Wallace’s reasoning above already takes this into account somehow. But that isn’t clear yet.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Jan Dowell
6 years ago

Well, if the question is: “are the causal mechanisms underlying the philosophy salary advantage the same as those underlying the gender gap in salaries”, then of course you’re never going to find that from anything as simple as the numerical data. I took Samantha’s question to be something much more straightforward: is the philosophy gender advantage just a logical consequence of the gender salary gap plus philosophy’s atypical gender ratio?Report

Avi Z.
Avi Z.
6 years ago

I suspect that CDF is right in pointing out that philosophy undergraduates sometimes end up in good law or medical programs with lucrative careers ahead of them. That will skew the results, offsetting the countless philosophy-trained baristas. I wouldn’t doubt some effect from a gender gap, too. That said, perhaps we should be encouraging philosophy precisely as a pre-law or pre-medical degree. My experience tells me this is liked by students because it gives them an edge over the ordinary bio or poli sci undergraduates for med or law admission, and they also enjoy the depth that philosophy brings to their understanding of medicine or law. Perhaps selling philosophy as a pre-law or pre-med major will also make it more inviting to women?Report

Dan Hicks
Reply to  Avi Z.
6 years ago

At this point, recruiting philosophy majors with the promise of a lucrative career in law is about as dubious as recruiting them with the promise of an edifying career in higher education. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/27/business/dealbook/burdened-with-debt-law-school-graduates-struggle-in-job-market.htmlReport

Greg
Greg
Reply to  Avi Z.
6 years ago

I can’t find the text saying exactly the following in the current PayScale report, but in previous years, PayScale’s salary data for Philosophy BA degrees only includes people whose highest degree is the BA — i.e., it does not include any lawyers’ or doctors’ salaries. (Perhaps they changed it this year; as I said, I couldn’t find the fine-print explanation where I expected it to be.)Report

Sigrid
Sigrid
6 years ago

Some humanities branches have directly correlating, but not high paying, careers for BA holders: teaching high school English, history or German, freelance tech writing or editing, etc. Not having those directly correlating choices might help push more philosophy majors into thinking about less obvious, but ultimately more lucrative fields.Report

Paul Hammond
Paul Hammond
6 years ago

Just like with previous studies on philosophy majors’ GRE scores and salaries, I think it’s likely that the best explanation for this is the institution you go to, not your major. If you look at the majors that are listed under “Humanities” in the graphic above, it seems likely to me that philosophy, history, and English literature are things you can major in at ivy league schools and very selective liberal arts schools (as well as other places), whereas you can’t major in general studies, liberal arts, or creative writing at those schools. And majors in biblical studies and pastoral ministry come from marginally accredited and little-respected religious colleges. So I think the data here don’t really say much about philosophy relative to other humanities majors. Perhaps you can make the case about philosophy as compared to English, history, or foreign languages, but it doesn’t seem very significant. But I’m overall reluctant to draw any conclusions about the earning power of different majors if it doesn’t make some effort to correct for institution. It’s obvious that what institution you go to correlates with income, and it’s obvious that there are differences in major distributions among different institutions. There’s really no reason I can see to suppose that those facts don’t explain all the variation in income by majors.

That said, I’m all for philosophy getting good press in places like The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2015/09/philosophy-majors-out-earn-other-humanities/403555/ Bad statistics are everywhere; some of them might as well be to our advantage.Report

Eddy Nahmias
Eddy Nahmias
6 years ago

I think we should not use such data to suggest to (potential) phil students that our major (i.e., taking phil classes or having phil major on transcript) *causes* (or is one of the most significant contrastive causes of) increased salary, for reasons suggested above and others. However, I think we should use such data to combat a myth that is prevalent among students, their families, and even college advisers, administrators, etc.–namely, the myth that majoring in philosophy causes one to have a low salary (or lower salary than many other majors). Let the re-education campaign begin!

…Oh, but make sure not to show the payscale info on which majors are “most meaningful”, since philosophy comes in 292nd place, near the bottom: http://www.payscale.com/college-salary-report/most-meaningful-majors?page=22
(This data seems to be based on a single survey question about whether the person’s job makes the world a better place, but that makes me wonder what jobs all these phil majors are getting that they find aren’t helping the world…)Report

Jonas Naumann
Jonas Naumann
6 years ago

If we discovered that a particular discipline allowed graduates to command high salaries, there are (assuming the data was reliably collected and analysed) *many* possible explanations of this.
Suppose, for instance, a degree was difficult for anyone but the wealthy and privileged to acquire (perhaps it requires the completion of lengthy, unpaid internships, for example, or makes polo competitions part of the assessment). The high salary of graduates in that case might be less a result of the skills taught, and more a consequence of graduates using their wealth and family connections to move into lucrative positions.
Or – suppose it’s traditional, in some discipline – poetry composition, let’s say – for students to be subjected to brutal physical and emotional abuse from staff and other students, to have to undergo physically and mentally gruelling assessments (spoken word poetry and rap competitions, perhaps, held in crowded and dangerous nightclubs), with little prospect of their ever working in the profession it supposedly qualifies them for. Employers in this case might consider a degree in poetry composition quite a useful marker of a graduate’s physical and mental endurance, and preferentially employ them (since this helps employers cut down on sick days taken). But even if the gruelling nature of the degree weren’t widely known by employers, we’d expect graduates from the degree to do quite well, salary-wise, not because of the skills they’ve acquired, but due to innate characteristics (physical and mental good health, persistence, verbal combat skills, an incredibly thick skin) which successfully completing a poetry composition degree happens to require.
A dull explanation might be that the degree teaches skills, easily acquired by any person of reasonable intelligence and persistence, which employers happen to find extremely valuable, but frankly I’d consider that fanciful. If the skills really *were* valuable in the marketplace, I’d expect to see private institutions and training companies springing up and offering to train people in them. (Many of these companies might be shoddy enterprises, but that’s irrelevant – I’d still expect them to arise in order to capitalize on the unwary.)
Although neither of the first two scenarios I’ve suggested is intended to be realistic, I suspect philosophy has elements of both. (Personally, I also don’t see much reason to believe PayScale has collected or analysed their data in any methodologically sound way, but that’s by the by.)Report

Kaylie
Kaylie
5 years ago

I majored in philosophy and I’m starting out at 52k base without my additional commission/bonuses for performance (average about 78k) first year out of college. The company projects I will overtake a role which makes about $150k in the next 10 years. So. I fit into this model quite well. I love some of these comments because the philosophers of course would analyze the data shown here in abstract ways and question it. Wake up and recognize your skill set you are even using it on here! ❤️❤️❤️ knowledge is power for those who are unaware philosophy litter ally means love of knowledge.Report