(NEXSTAR) — With student loans due again for the first time since the start of the COVID pandemic, you may be even more aware of the payoff — large or small — of attending college and getting your degree.
Sure, you may have been told while growing up that going and getting a bachelor’s degree would set you up for financial success. Data released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that may not be the case.
Americans with a bachelor’s degree had a median income of $74,154 in 2022, roughly $600 below the national average of all earners, regardless of their education.
There are, of course, degree-holders earning much more — and much less — than that.
Data released this week from the Census Bureau found degrees in science and engineering fields had the highest average incomes, outperforming those with degrees in business, education, the arts, humanities, or other degrees.
Across all Americans, those with a degree in electrical engineering earn the most at roughly $121,600, on average. That’s almost $69,000 more than those on the other end of the scale — Americans with degrees in family and consumer sciences earned an average of $52,850 last year.
The five highest-earning degrees in the U.S. last year, among Americans with bachelor’s degrees who are between the ages of 25 and 64, were:
- Electrical engineering: $121,600
- Computer science: $108,500
- Mechanical engineering: $106,200
- Economics: $101,400
- Engineering: $100,600
Alternatively, the five lowest-earning degrees were:
- Family and consumer sciences: $52,850
- Fine arts: $53,450
- Elementary education: $54,900
- Social work: $55,060
- General education: $58,000
While the wage differences between the highest and lowest-paying degrees are stark, the difference between median pay for men and women with the same degrees is even worse.
For example, men with electrical engineering degrees earned an average of $123,800 last year, $2,200 higher than the national average. Women with the same degree, however, earned an average of $105,200 last year, a difference of $18,600. Men with a computer science degree earn, on average, $115,500. Women with the same degree average $91,990, a difference of more than $23,500.
The highest disparity is among those with engineering degrees. While men averaged $103,300 last year, the median income among women was just $76,160 — a difference of more than $27,000.
Below are five degrees that had the largest disparities in median earnings among men and women.
It was the social work field that had the lowest pay disparity. While men in the field earn, on average, $60,090, women earn $54,380. Other fields with lower earning differences were physical fitness, parks, recreation, and leisure; elementary education; communications; and fine arts.
The Census Bureau also calculated the average woman’s earnings as a percentage of a man’s with the same degree. Nationally, women with bachelor’s degrees made less than 71% of what men with bachelor’s degrees made in 2022.
The highest and lowest paying degrees for men and women largely followed the national trends. For men, finance ranked as the fifth-highest paying, edging out engineering. Replacing family and consumer sciences and general education on the lower end were other education degrees and degrees covering physical fitness, parks, recreation, and leisure. For women, civil engineering replaced engineering in the top five. Criminal justice and fire protection and commercial art and graphic design replaced social work and general education on the lower-paying end of the scale.
While the Census Bureau found that, overall, liberal arts, general studies, and humanities degrees have an apparent lower earnings potential, they have been the most popular in the U.S. over the last decade.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows there were more than 400,000 degrees in those fields completed in the 2020-21 school year, vastly outperforming the second most popular, health professions and related programs, where just over 181,000 degrees were granted in the same year.
Engineering degrees and degrees in computer and information sciences and support services ranked among the three least common fields — roughly 48,700 and 34,100 degrees were completed in each, respectively, during 2020-21.