What kind of jobs did college grads with liberal arts degrees used to get?


There has been a lot of talk about how millennial college graduates have had difficulty finding work. As a millennial I find this topic very interesting. I have heard explanations such as the lack of job growth in the 21st century, or the fact that most kids do not graduate college with practical skills. Although the second reason makes sense, statistically college graduates used to have a much easier time finding jobs. That being said, what kind of jobs did people with liberal arts degrees get 20 years ago?


In a recent study of U.S. Census data on individual earnings for those with a wide range of degrees for 2010-2011, liberal arts majors who have completed a baccalaureate degree (only) have the lowest median salaries early after graduation ($22,250 per year) and also at peak earnings ($58,000 per year) among all college major group. For example, median peak earning for engineers is $98,000 per year and for math and science graduates is $87,000 per year. However, liberal arts baccalaureates can sometimes make a worthwhile investment in a professional degree or a graduate degree, i.e. the benefits would exceed the costs, which is largely foregone earnings. For example, 20 years ago, it might have been a good investment for a liberal arts major in history or political science to pursue a law degree. However, the Great Recession resulted in layoffs of a large number of lawyers, and with new graduates, the market for lawyers remains quite depressed. Generally individuals with BA in the liberal arts will have better earnings prospects relative to more technically trained graduates when the economy is at full employment, rather than the high unemployment rates that have existed since 2007-08. Long term earnings prospects can be greatly tarnished by a bad labor market at the time of graduation.

For further reading see:

1) Humphreys, D. and P. Kelly. “How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors fare in Employment."

2) Hecker, D. “Earnings of College Graduates, 1993,” Monthly Labor Review, Dec. 1995. Available at: http://www.bls.gov/mlr/1995/12/art1full.pdf

Last updated on
May 18, 2023

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