How should one measure the value of a college degree? In a study released today, the Humanities Indicators gathers the most recent measures from the Gallup alumni survey and federal surveys of college graduates.
The report finds that humanities majors are similar to graduates from almost every other field with respect to perceived well-being, even though they tend to earn less and have slightly higher levels of unemployment than business majors and graduates from some STEM fields. Among the key findings:
- College graduates are highly likely to report that they are satisfied with their lives—regardless of their field of degree. Nationally, around 90% of humanities graduates were satisfied with their lives in 2019, similar to graduates from every other field.
- Two-thirds of humanities graduates (68%) reported in 2019 that their job provided the “opportunity to do what I do best every day,” 67% that they were “deeply interested in the work that I do,” and more than half (54%) believed they had the “ideal job” for them. These shares were similar to college graduates in general.
- While the report reveals similarities between the humanities and the college graduates in general on most attitudinal measures, two findings signal a challenge for the field: Only 28% of humanities graduates without an advanced degree thought their job was closely related to their degree in 2019. This share was substantially smaller than that for graduates with a natural science, engineering, or business degree. And approximately 40% indicated that they would not choose the same major again, while a similar share reported they did not believe that their undergraduate institution prepared them for life. This was close to the percentage for college graduates generally, but substantially larger than the share among graduates from some STEM fields.
On Earnings and Occupations
- Median annual earnings for humanities graduates who worked full-time were somewhat lower than the median for all college graduates in 2018 (for those without advanced degrees, $58,000 compared to $63,000), but significantly higher than for workers without a college education ($38,000).
- Humanities graduates—even those without an advanced degree—were widely distributed across occupational categories in 2018, similar to college graduates generally and those from the science disciplines.
- Over 900,000 humanities graduates were employed in management positions in 2018, and approximately 11% of managers have a bachelor’s degree in the humanities.
Notable findings for graduates from other fields
- Education majors have the lowest median salaries, but were among the most likely to express satisfaction with various aspects of their jobs and their lives. Strikingly, a majority of education graduates felt they had enough money in 2019—a share similar to that of several higher-earning fields.
- Business and engineering majors were the least likely to indicate that contributing to society was a vital aspect of their work (with only around 40% citing that as “very important,” compared to 53% among all graduates in 2019).
- Graduates from the behavioral and social sciences were similar to their counterparts from the humanities on most measures.
- Graduates from the arts were the least likely to believe their college “prepared me well for life outside of college” in 2019, with 47% agreeing with that statement compared to more than 60% from every other major academic field.
While the data were all gathered prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, past experience tracking this sort of data for the humanities—particularly through the Great Recession—gives us little reason to expect a significant change over the medium term.