College majors of the top 1%

The undergraduate majors that provide the best chance of reaching the top 1 percent in earnings are pre-med, economics, biochemistry, zoology and biology, according to the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey. That suggests many high earners are doctors. The high-earning econ majors probably started businesses.

Some 5.9 percent of art history majors end up in the top 1 percent, beating out chemistry and finance. Perhaps art history majors are more likely to start out wealthy.

Qualifying for a good job is a very important reason for going to college, according to 85.9 percent of U.S. freshmen in an annual UCLA survey.  That’s up sharply since the recession began, edging out “to learn more about things that interest me.”

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  1. Cranberry says:

    I’d say the budding doctors are more likely to start out wealthy. I know many doctors whose children also become doctors. They’re also more likely to attend schools which teach the math and science foundations to pre-med study.

    Area, Ethnic and Civilization Studies produce more 1 percenters than microbiology. Philosophy and Religious Studies produce more 1 percenters than chemical engineering. All four majors are dwarfed by History (3.3% of all 1 percenters.)

    Perhaps it’s such a fluke to end up in the 1%, that an individual’s personal qualities of charisma, intelligence, and drive have much more to do with the outcome than the college major?

    Perhaps it’s simply wrong to assume that students who choose humanities must be from wealthy families in order to be successful adults?

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    “Some 5.9 percent of art history majors end up in the top 1 percent, beating out chemistry and finance. Perhaps art history majors are more likely to start out wealthy.”

    I think we really need to know how much (and what) graduate/professional education these folks have before we can draw any conclusion. It the real key is to become a doctor or lawyer or partnered accountant or to work on wall street, then the undergraduate degree is only of financial interest to the extent that it helps getting into the desired graduate program.

  3. Chartermom says:

    This really raises more questions than it answers. Can wealthier students afford to indulge their interests in humanities knowing that they can afford to take low paying jobs to start or will be able to pay for a graduate school degree while their family wealth keeps them in the 1%? As Mark asks — what was the level of graduate education of many of the those 1%ers with the humanities degrees? Was it really that they went on to be lawyers or got a Harvard MBA? Also the article refers to households — how many of those 1% degrees are those held by the member of the household not responsible for earning the money that puts the household in the 1% (i.e. the (non-doctor) biology major married to the doctor met in college?) What impact does geography have — someone making $400,000 in NYC is not as “wealthy” as someone making $400,000 in a small town. And would certain jobs (with their related majors, say art history) be more likely to be found in higher cost urban cultural centers while other jobs (say accounting) are spread more evenly across urban and small town environments? What are the majors of performers and pro athletes and their directors, producers and coaches — whose existence in the 1% is due to their talents and in most cases totally unrelated to their college degrees?

    But beyond all these questions — what are the median household incomes for all these majors? Even if a major gives an individual more of a chance of hitting the one percent what happens to all those who don’t make it up the ladder to the top — are they somewhat spread across the spectrum from low to high (like accountants or engineers) or is there a small cluster at the top with the majority being far down the ladder and not much in the middle?

  4. Traditionally, art history majors tried to marry wealth, not earn it. But times may have changed.