III-06a: Median Annual Earnings of Full-Time Workers with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree, by Gender and Field of Degree, 2018*

* Full-time workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks in the previous 12 months. Fields are arranged in descending order of earnings for all full-time workers.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2018 American Community Survey Public-Use Microdata Sample. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (

For the purposes of the American Community Survey (ACS), the source of these data, the U.S. Census Bureau defines earnings as “the sum of wage or salary income and net income from self-employment. ‘Earnings’ represent the amount of income received regularly for people 16 years old and over before deductions for personal income taxes, Social Security, bond purchases, union dues, Medicare deductions, etc. An individual with earnings is one who has either wage/salary income or self-employment income, or both. Respondents who ‘break even’ in self-employment income and therefore have zero self-employment earnings also are considered ‘individuals with earnings’” (from ACS documentation provided at /2014_ACSSubjectDefinitions.pdf, p. 83).

The ACS permits respondents to specify up to two fields of bachelor’s degree. For the purposes of this analysis, an individual was counted as having a bachelor’s degree in the humanities if the field of either reported degree was within the scope of the humanities as specified by the HI. For an inventory of the specific fields included under the broad field groupings used here, see the ACS-HI Crosswalk.

Quartiles are statistics that divide the observations of a numeric sample into four groups, each of which contains 25% of the data. The lower, middle, and upper quartiles are computed by ordering the values for a particular variable (earnings, in this case) from smallest to largest and then finding the values below which fall 25%, 50%, and 75% of the data. The middle quartile is also known as the median.

When it comes to the analysis of the earnings of humanities majors and how they compare to majors in other fields, the HI always reports the median rather than the mean (“average”). This is necessary due to the highly skewed nature of the U.S. earnings distribution, meaning that there is a small share of the US population that earns considerably more than the vast majority of Americans. The mean is very sensitive to such extreme values. The median is far less so and is thus a better measure of “typical” earnings.

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