The Surprising College Major Predictor: Family Income

The Surprising College Major Predictor: Family Income

What'll it be this semester: Shakespeare? Spanish? Science?

The possibilities of what to study in college seem limitless. But when it comes to finally choosing a major, mom and dad’s finances play a more-than-minor role.

Examining data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Cornell sociologist Kim Weeden uncovered a correlation between college students’ choice of major and their parents’ annual income.

Students from low-income households were more likely to pursue degrees in the hard sciences: household income by major averaged $77K for computer science, $78K for medicine and nursing, and $79K for agriculture.


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Students from wealthy families gravitated to pursue less-lucrative degrees, namely in the arts and humanities.

English majors topped the charts, hailing from households that earn $99K annually. History and arts majors were next in line, with families whose earnings averaged $96K and $94K, respectively.

College students without much of a financial family safety net may opt for a STEM degree in the hopes of a higher salary post-graduation.

If so, they've got the right idea: The gap in lifetime wages between the highest- and lowest-paying majors is a whopping $3.4 million, according to recent Georgetown University findings.

Weeden's research showed that the median mid-career income of a humanities major, for example, hovered at $52Kabout half the average income of an English student's household ($99K).

In contrast, computer science majors earned a median of $76K, and came from families where household income averaged $77K. In other words, these grads tended to individually earn what their parents earned collectively.

If you’re a college student (or the parent of one) anxious about choosing a major, check out these top fields for steady work and high earnings.


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