The wisdom of seeking a degree in the humanities is often called into question, with administrators perennially seeking to cut majors, state officials targeting them, and professors debating how best to defend their worth. Meanwhile, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the humanities declined nearly 16 percent between 2012 and 2020.
But a new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences contradicts the narrative that humanities degrees are a waste of money. College graduates in every state who majored in humanities fields like history, philosophy, and English literature outearned people with no degree, according to the academy’s data.
Robert B. Townsend, the academy’s program director for humanities, arts, and culture, said the data were generated in response to administrators’ and faculty members’ requests for information that could be used to show lawmakers that humanities majors have positive career outcomes at the state level — just as the academy found they do nationally.
In general, he said, the questions about the return on investment for humanities degrees seem to move in two directions.
“One is you might as well not even get a degree if you’re going to get a humanities degree, and the other is the comparison to the engineering graduates — who are in a class by themselves as far as earnings,” Townsend said.
However, he said, the new data show that humanities majors aren’t largely unemployed and their earnings are comparable to or better than the salaries of workers who majored in most non-humanities fields.