There’s a terrific piece in “The Atlantic” by Joe Pinsker entitled “Rich Kids Study English” that we absolutely wanted to share with the readers of our college admissions blog. The piece focuses on how college students whose mean household income is $100,000 are more likely than are their counterparts whose mean household income is less — or significantly less — than this figure to major in English. It makes sense if you think about it. Studying English doesn’t have direct application to a trade, as engineering or computer science does. The children of higher earning parents can, in many ways, afford to major in a discipline that doesn’t have direct practical application. In our experience, these students — and their parents — are also more in touch with the values of a great liberal arts education.
The article starts off by telling the story of how John Adams delineated in a letter to his wife, Abigail, the future trades of their children. Adams valued the practical. He saw the value in math. And in navigation and commerce. That may have been a long time ago and Adams may have been among the wealthier colonists, but the value in these practical disciplines has not changed. It’s just that children of wealthier parents tend to be more inclined to study a liberal arts subject like English or history, anthropology or dare we say even Latin. As this piece in “The Atlantic” points out, the children of less wealthy parents are more inclined to study such disciplines as law enforcement and firefighting (which are not offered at most highly selective colleges) and education. The children of wealthier parents tend to be more inclined to study visual and performing arts, anthropology, and political science, to name a few.
As expressed in the very well reasoned piece, “The explanation is fairly intuitive. ‘It’s … consistent with the claim that kids from higher-earning families can afford to choose less vocational or instrumental majors, because they have more of a buffer against the risk of un- or under-employment,’ [Kim] Weeden says. With average earnings for different types of degrees as well-publicized as they are—the difference in lifetime earnings among majors can be more than $3 million, one widely covered study found—it’s not hard to imagine a student deciding his or her academic path based on its expected payout. And it’s especially not hard to imagine poorer kids making this calculation out of necessity, while richer kids forgo that means-to-an-end thinking.”
What do you think about this interesting finding? While it doesn’t surprise us, it’s always interesting for us to see our intuition backed up by hard data, as this story in “The Atlantic” and the research behind it seems to confirm. Oh, and it should be noted that visual arts majors have the lowest median mid-career annual salaries among the majors discussed in the study cited by “The Atlantic.” And which majors have the highest median mid-career annual salary? Architecture and engineering. Makes sense that the children of less wealthy parents would thus choose architecture and engineering, right? It sure does to us.
While you’re here, read our blog entitled College Ranking by Economic Prospects.