Women Choosing Lucrative Majors Often Don’t Choose Lucrative Jobs

And even when they choose high-paying majors, women often don’t choose high-paying jobs. For example, math is a pretty lucrative major, and more than 40 percent of math majors are women. But women who major in math are much more likely than men to go into lower-paying professions, like teaching.

Midway through the conversation, I realized that the economist — Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University — was basically talking about me. I described my situation to Carnevale: I majored in applied math. I have an MBA. And I’m working as a reporter at NPR.

“Oh, you left a lot of money on the table,” he told me. “You left probably as much as $3-to-$4 million on the table.”

Planet Money’s Lisa Chow talked to an economist who has been looking at how majoring in certain fields affects the incomes of graduates, and she discovered that women like herself who study what are supposed to be high-reward majors (in the monetary sense) often take lower-paying jobs after they graduate. Chow says she loves her job and that her job matters so much more than money. Of course, people don’t decide to study early childhood education or social work and think about the big bucks they’re going to make—it’s not always about that, which is why charts showing the highest paid majors aren’t always that helpful (oh, engineers make a lot of money, and studio art majors don’t? SURPRISE).

Photo: Jimmie

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13 Comments / Post A Comment

bgprincipessa (#699)

Yup!!! That’s me as well. I don’t have my career actually figured out yet (I know, who does) but it is definitely not taking me to the potential that my math degree could have. And that’s fine by me. Working insane hours will never be okay for me, and that’s the direction I’d have to go in.

OllyOlly (#669)

I just took an over $10,000 paycut to leave finance and work at a university, partially to get tuition benefits for an MBA, but also just to leave my terrible job. I am woman, hear me make decisions that consider more than just how much money I will make.

@OllyOlly But getting your tuition paid is a huge perk! I have nooo idea how much MBA programs cost or how much funding a student can get, but doesn’t the tution kind of pay back the paycut?

OllyOlly (#669)

@apples and oranges It helps, but over the few years it will take me to complete the degree (lose $10k a year + excellent 401k contributions) + paying taxes on the benefits (~$15,000) the costs end up being similar. I think I used the tuition benefits to help convince myself to make the jump, but at the end of the day it was about leaving a job where I felt disrespected every hour of the day. Dignity has no price I suppose.

garli (#4,150)

I’m a lady who majored in physics but not to make more money – I wanted to be a college prof. Then I left grad school because I realized the BS profs have to go through isn’t worth the hassle. Now I’m an Engineer. So I feel like the exact opposite of this piece.

sherlock (#3,599)

Also a woman math major here (and likely future MBA). Right now I’m in a sweet spot of being very well paid for a recent grad and working mostly sane hours, but I know that that’s not the way the world works for the most part. I do struggle with what direction I want to go in after I get my MBA, though, in terms of the tradeoff between income and reasonable hours. (I don’t even want kids, I just like sleeping and going to brunch and happy hour and all those things you don’t really have time for when you’re constantly working.)

I’m pretty sure right now I lean on the side of “I want to get paid.” I’m very attracted to the idea of building up economic power and influence as a woman (see my comment on the “What’s your fantasy” post), I just struggle with how to do that in a way that won’t require enormous sacrifice in other areas of my life.

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

Yet another mathy lady here. Not sure where I fall on the spectrum — I took out loans to go the master’s route at a school I loved rather than go elsewhere, but I ended up in government. Men with similar credentials dominate here, but I know what everyone makes and we’re all on the same level (in fact, I’m one of the youngest here making as much as I do). It’s decent pay, but obviously not as much as I could make consulting or on Wall Street.

I like @OllyOlly’s “I am woman, hear me make decisions that consider more than just how much money I will make.”

Meganopolis (#4,308)

Another female astronomy/physics major chiming in – I actually work at more aerospace engineering oriented job (so not research – generally mission support for NASA) and am compensated quite well for a job out of college and rarely work over 40 hrs which is way more important to me than the pay check.

money is not the most important thing in life – why bother making a fortune if you never have time to enjoy it. I’d rather earn less and enjoy the time I have! I am incredibly fortunate right now to be in a position that satisfies my brain, my wallet, and my personal life.

Catface (#1,106)

@Meganopolis Agree 100%. Another consideration for me was how gross and how often my work would make me feel. Management consulting was a strong possibility, but would I have felt good about myself (rather than on account of the social status that accrued to me) telling people that’s what I did? Probably not. I find that the public sector hits the sweet spot of brain + wallet + personal life + integrity. Plus job security!

sea ermine (#122)

I wonder how much of this is the hours that come with high paying jobs? If I had the option of taking a job with a 20k pay raise but that required me to work 60 hours a week I wouldn’t take it, because I’d end up making less per hour.

I’d much prefer a higher paying job (even if it was also a high stress job) it’s just that I can’t handle working more than 40 hours a week on regular basis. I don’t have (and don’t want) kids but I need time to hang out with friends, make dinner, go to museums, take walks, etc. Plus I have health issues (depression!) that would be exacerbated by poor sleep. If there were a way to make a higher salary while still working 40 hours a week I’d aim for that, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for most high paying professions I know about.

franklina (#3,924)

Setting up a conflict between “high-paying job + terrible hours” and “low-paying job + reasonable hours” to represent this article’s point isn’t accurate. There is a huge swath of decent-paying + decent-hour careers in between finance and teaching or nonprofits, and apparently (says this story) women are disproportionately ending up in the lowest-paying tier.

It sounds like a lot of the “money isn’t the most important thing” people chiming in here are in that middle tier – gov’t jobs, not-super-high-stress public sector, etc – which is a reasonable personal choice that lots of women and men make.

The more interesting dilemma is women with the background and potential to succeed in both “high-paying + terrible hours” OR “decent-paying + decent hours” ending up in, instead, “low-paying + decent hours” fields like teaching, nonprofit, writing, etc. Not that any of these are *bad* careers obviously. But you have to wonder (and more research on this is obv needed) *why* women in particular are choosing, say, to go into science writing instead of project management at a science company, or math teaching instead of math/engineering-doing for a gov’t contractor, for example.

Are women being advised about the potential careers with their background at the same level as men? Are men faring better coming out of school with *no* advisory (which seems about standard in my sciencey field)? These are the interesting questions. It’s not just “women want better hours.”

womb bat (#3,498)

Since when do teachers work reasonable hours?

Kthompson (#1,858)

@womb bat Totally. It used to drive me nuts when a former boss put down teachers as lazy, saying they “only work from 8 to 3.” I guess the five evening hours my mother spent grading assignments/writing lesson plans/creating tests/fielding phone calls/dealing with administrative, bureaucratic BS don’t count as work.

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