Humanities graduates report high job satisfaction despite lower pay
Arts and humanities graduates are happy with their jobs despite earning less money, according to a study published earlier this month.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which surveyed graduates from 2015, found that although humanities graduates are slightly more likely to be unemployed and earn less than engineering, social science, business and life science graduates, about 87 percent of all workers with a bachelor’s degree in the humanities were satisfied with their jobs. The satisfaction level is similar to graduates from other fields who make more money, according to the study.
Jennie Brand, a sociology and statistics professor, said humanities degree holders may be content with their jobs because they tend to choose fields of study that appeal to them, rather than those offering higher incomes.
The study found that the average salary for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in the humanities was $52,000 in 2015, less than the average salary of $60,000 for all graduates.
Brand added studies show students from better socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to pursue humanities degrees. She said many humanities graduates expect to financially benefit from their degrees further along in their careers rather than right away.
“The return on those degrees isn’t always, at least not immediately, the economic payoff, but the fact that they are able to choose a career that appeals to them on some other level,” she said.
Several humanities professors said they think students who pursue humanities degrees get specialized training in their area of study and learn skills, such as critical thinking, that benefit them later in life.
Kevin Terraciano, a history professor who teaches classes on Latin America, said that he thinks people perform better in fields they enjoy.
“I’m not surprised people who are passionate about their fields are more satisfied,” he said.
He added the critical reading and writing training humanities students receive help them advance in their careers.
“People in positions of authority tend to be well-rounded and good communicators,” he said.
John Papadopoulos, a classics professor, said humanities graduates learn skills that are valuable in the workforce, including learning to think outside the box.
“These are precisely the kinds of people that employers have the most interest in,” he said. “People who have independent thought and who can pursue research and work independently.”
Papadopoulos added humanities courses help make students more well-rounded, even if they are not pursuing a humanities degree.
“These general education courses that are based around visual interpretation or philosophy or literary interpretation … round out people who are really focusing on one particular thing,” he said.
Humanities students said they think studying what they are passionate about will help them find jobs they enjoy.
Bella Barkett, a first-year Middle Eastern studies and human biology and society student, said she thinks humanities classes provide a space for students to discuss their interests and formulate their own opinions, which helps prepare them for their careers. She added she thinks humanities students tend to keep up to date with current events.
“I chose humanities and Middle Eastern studies because I think it’s really relevant to the present day,” she said, “Growing up in Europe, the region is in the news all the time.”
Maya Gutierrez, a first-year English student, said she thinks humanities students tend to be satisfied with their careers because many pursue creative fields.
“Humanities majors … make sense of life,” she said. “Others make the movies you watch, the music you listen to walking to class.”
Gutierrez added many humanities graduates work in fields unrelated to their majors.
“I’m living in the now. I know that if I continue what I like, money will come,” she said. “I grew up without a lot of money, so I know it’s not necessary to be happy.”