Philosophy: Top Paid Humanities Major of 2016


Philosophy majors are predicted to have higher average starting salaries than graduates in any other humanities major, reports the National Association of Colleges and Employers in its 2016 Salary Survey:

Philosophy majors are projected to earn an average starting salary of $49,000 (See Figure 1). This is up from last year, when projected salaries for philosophy majors reported in NACE’s Winter 2015 Salary Survey averaged $46,067.

philosophy salary data 2016

More info here.

UPDATE: Alfred MacDonald looked at the report and points out (in a comment below) that the humanities data is based on 46 self-selected respondents, and so should be taken with a tablespoon of salt. One would think that the National Association of Colleges and Employers would do a bit better.

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Sabrina
Sabrina
5 years ago

I wonder how much of this can be explained by a gendered wage gap, and the fact that (iirc) philosophy has the highest ratio of male to female majors in the humanities.Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
Reply to  Sabrina
5 years ago

probably a marginal amount, if any, given what information is already available about college major data in particular and the 93:100 wage disparity in particularReport

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
5 years ago
Nadia Khayrallah
5 years ago

Does anyone have a hypothesis why? I first thought that it might be because of gender, but I was just as surprised that visual/performing arts was second (which I don’t believe is predominantly male). Did they collect any data on what their actual jobs are? Maybe the higher-payed graduates are just less likely to be working in a job related to their discipline . . .Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
Reply to  Nadia Khayrallah
5 years ago

“I first thought that it might be because of gender”

why would you think this? sex demographics of majors won’t significantly influence how much the major is paid more generally

even if they did, it’d account for 7% of the income data, since the gap is roughly 7% as per http://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/graduating-to-a-pay-gap-the-earnings-of-women-and-men-one-year-after-college-graduation.pdf

a much bigger issue is the # of reports, which is abysmal, as I mentioned elsewhere here (and more obvious by reading the full report)Report

Nadia
Reply to  Alfred H MacDonald
5 years ago

Well assuming that many undergraduate humanities majors go into jobs that not are specific to that particular major, gender demographics could play a role. But yes, like you mentioned, not that much of a difference. The self-report issue does seem to be more likely.Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
Reply to  Nadia
5 years ago

to be real about this, a much bigger discrimination risk than being male/female is being either of these things and looking like a stereotypical art student that can easily be lumped into the “useless major” stereotype.

as in, “I majored in philosophy and have dyed hair and have other superficial traits associated with hipsters” is probably way more of an occupational risk than “I majored in philosophy and am female.” not that *I* care what you look like, of course, but I am also not a person who hires people.Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
5 years ago

This information probably should not be used to make decisions.

When you look at the comprehensive data in the report http://www.naceweb.org/uploadedFiles/Content/static-assets/downloads/executive-summary/2016-january-salary-survey-executive-summary.pdf it’s way more apparent that this was influenced by WHO CHOSE to report since these responses were not collected equally. Engineering was reported 499 times while Humanities — all of the humanities — was reported 49 times. So literally 10 times as many people in a single major reported than every major in the humanities. This wasn’t mentioned by the way, but the master’s degree data is so skewed that no humanities majors *at all* reported their data, while 224 did in engineering and 221 did in business.

If you want to make informed decisions about something that men and women (but especially men) associate with their value/attractiveness/whatever, it’s never a good idea to go off of self-reported data. This includes anything involving metrics that people value highly about themselves and are likely to exaggerate, including but not limited to: income, height, IQ, penis size, breast size, dress size, number of sexual partners, video game scores, SAT scores, GRE scores, LSAT scores, bench press, brand of clothing, how many important people you’re friends with, etc..

We also don’t know:

1. What colleges these several dozen reports came from
2. What their cost of living is like

In all likelihood, the starting salary of humanities is probably much, much lower than this. This is especially true because when you look at PayScale data (which is also self reported yet includes far more responses) the averages for non-STEM/business tend toward $35,000 and Philosophy is about $40,000 there as opposed to $49,000 here.

My guess is that it’s probably closer to $30,000 across all cities and probably more like $25,000 in cities with lower CoL (Phoenix, San Antonio) and more like $40,000 in cities with higher CoL.Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

you’re welcome, and sorry I’ve commented so much here — this info hits a sore spot with me because I have much more private loan debt than I’d want precisely *because * based my college decisions on income data like this (but was not familiar with its shortcomings), and insidiously enough, some loan lenders use this kind of information to give out loans with horrible repayment terms knowing the student will default anywayReport

Wayne Fenske
Wayne Fenske
5 years ago

The other thing no one ever seems to mention here is that no CAUSAL connection between getting a degree in Philosophy and earning more money has been established. It could well be that the sort of people who end up getting Philosophy degrees are, by nature, more curious and thoughtful than average and their possession of these personality qualities is what causes them to have higher starting salaries, not their Philosophy degree.
Jus’ sayin’ …Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
Reply to  Wayne Fenske
5 years ago

this is correct. an even simpler (but still accurate) way to say this is that philosophy filters for smarter people on average, who tend to make more money on average.

in other words, you could get the same income correlation by looking at who is in your school’s chess club. some people are bad at this kind of cognitive ability (myself included), but it intercorrelates enough with other cognitive abilities (the basis behind general intelligence or ‘g’) that over a larger sample you’ll be filtering for higher intelligence, since even though membership in a club is voluntary, the kind of people who like doing a mentally challenging thing a lot are people who are less taxed doing it. this is assuming that the mentally challenging thing is not so absorbing that it takes away career motivation for any other area (like a skill-heavy yet addicting video game, or like philosophy for most of us.)Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
Reply to  Wayne Fenske
5 years ago

also (I can’t edit my comment here sorry), MyPersonality used to have Big Five data for personality traits on facebook, and philosophy had one of the highest Openness To Experience scores of any major, so you’re right about curiosity as that’s what philosophy measures.

going off of memory, I think it was:

Openness: High / Very High
Conscientiousness: Low
Extroversion: Low
Agreeableness: Very Low*
Neuroticism: (I forgot this one. I think it was medium, though.)

* philosophy majors probably artificially deflate their agreeableness scores because it’s measured with questions like “I contradict others”, which of course is true for anyone who likes arguments, but the test is thinking more along the lines of a person who picks physical fights for no reason since that’s the layperson’s context of disagreement unfortunatelyReport

Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Wayne, right, it’s likely largely correlational (same with the GRE, LSAT, etc.) data. So, to test the causal hypothesis, we use this data about how philosophy makes you smarter and richer to attract to the major people who would not otherwise become majors (because of their pre-existing thoughtfulness, curiosity, etc.) and then we see if philosophy majors still earn more and test higher! Call it “experimental philosophy”!
More seriously, as an Undergrad Director who uses this sort of data to encourage more people to major or minor in philosophy (see link below), I worry about its being misleading. But I think it’s fair to present it in the context of counteracting the widespread impression that philosophy is a useless major that will make you poor. And it can even be used to teach students to think about correlation vs. causation.
http://philosophy.gsu.edu/files/2014/03/What-is-Philosophy-Good-For-2015-mac.pdfReport

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

philosophy is one of those disciplines that’s extremely important for high-level decisions, but probably will not come into much use if you’re staring at Excel spreadsheets all day.

as in, I would feel much more comfortable if more CEOs and elected officials have studied philosophy, but it’s hard to make a case for its economic value when you’re looking for the kind of jobs that 20-something BA graduates look for.Report

Wayne Fenske
Wayne Fenske
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Let’s do it!Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
5 years ago

While there is certainly room for alternate explanations of the data, one might get the idea from the thread so far that on the whole, philosophers are pretty confident that SOME of those alternate explanations must be right. I think this is selling us short: the simple face-value explanation also deserves to be on the table. It is not at all implausible that training in philosophy gives students analytical skills that serve them well in the workplace.

When my department sent a survey to undergraduate alumni last year, we found that self-reports along these lines were very common. Many former philosophy majors with jobs in all kinds of different current fields say that their philosophical training is a significant part of the explanation for their professional thriving. Those are just anecdotes and self-reports, but combined with data like this, I think we should at least be open to the simple possibility: training in philosophy causes many students to earn more money after university.Report

Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

That’s right, Jonathan, and I probably sounded like I disagree more than I do. It’s going to be a complex causal story (and different for different students), but I feel pretty confident that philosophy, more than most other majors, teaches students skills useful for many jobs. In addition to the analytical skills, I think we teach students a type of clear, argumentative, concise writing that is likely appreciated by many bosses, clients, and colleagues.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
5 years ago

I find this whole exercise to be misguided. For, it accepts the premise that we can somehow, to some degree evaluate a course of study by checking to see how much its majors make relative to those who focused their studies on some other course of study.

Live by the broken sword, die by the broken sword, people.Report