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Education Majors Earn Less Regardless Of Career

As I've mentioned before, I studied education as an undergraduate. I knew that my career as a public school teacher would limit my potential earnings over my lifetime, though I eyed administration as a potential progression. I diverged into non-profit work, and if I learned anything from my time working at a non-profit, it's that it can be very psychologically fulfilling work, but rarely financially fulfilling. That's great for someone who doesn't need to worry about whether there's enough money to buy groceries and pay rent or is willing to make great personal sacrifices.

I changed my line of work. At a financial firm, hindsight tells me I could have negotiated a higher starting salary, but it was already a great increase over my salary at the non-profit I had left just a short time prior.

According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, undergraduate students who majored in education and have attained at most a bachelor's degree earn less than other students, even when they pursue a career path that is more lucrative. The bureau calculated and cross-referenced lifetime earnings for each major and each career field by grouping survey respondents into eight age buckets consisting of five years, determined the median annual earnings for each age group, multiplied the number by five, and added the totals together.

It's an interesting method of calculation, and I don't know whether I would have chosen the same method. If the purpose of the study is cross-discipline and cross-industry comparisons, the fact that it's consistent is what's most important. The bureau's report acknowledges this: “This estimate is not intended to be a prediction but an illustrative example of the magnitude of differences in earnings based on factors such as education and occupation added up over a work life.”

Using this calculation, an engineering major who works in engineering in architecture throughout his or her life earns a figure of $3.6 million. Again, this is not a prediction of actual earnings, but a representation of the data useful for comparison. Business majors who take on the same work throughout their lives earn $2.9 million. An education major in architecture of engineering earns a full million less than the engineering major, even when pursuing the same career.

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