Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why certain majors are more profitable than others

The other day, I read an article on the San Francisco Chronicle website which discussed the increasing phenomenon of college graduates having to move home due to being unable to find a job. This particular article focused on three struggling recent graduates - a sociology major, an English major, and a double-major in economics and political science. These individuals expressed their frustrations at not being able to find a job and thankfulness that their parents allowed them to move back home.

Now, what struck me about this article was not the article itself, but the comments section. Many readers had no sympathy for these students, claiming that their humanities majors had no practical use in finding a job. Some claimed that if these students had majored in the hard sciences instead of merely fooling around during college, they would have jobs right now. Others stated that their situation was a result of not being intelligent enough to study the hard sciences. A commonly recurring theme was that those who chose majors such as sociology or psychology were epitomes of sorority girl, fraternity boy, and student athlete stereotypes.

I suppose none of this is new to me, coming from a school where sociology and mass communication majors were stereotyped as the partiers and underachievers. In actuality, I never thought much about until it I went to grad school and realized that most of my classmates were indeed sociology and psychology majors. From having interacted with a number of them, I know firsthand that these people are extremely intelligent, driven, and hardworking, hardly fitting of the aforementioned stereotypes. Additionally, I have a number of classmates who were science majors as undergrads, including biology and computer engineering. In fact, I found out recently that one of my friends has done work on particle accelerators. While I don't know the reasons as to why they didn't choose to pursue a more science-related career, I highly doubt that lack of intelligence is one of them.

Why am I talking about this? I suppose part of it is a little bit of transference because I admit I had a rather negative reaction to this comments left on this article. Another reason is to process my thoughts, which is one reason I like to blog. Similar to these undergrads, social workers are generally frustrated due to lack of pay and stressful working conditions (or lack thereof). Many people do not understand or even see the value of the work we do, with our academic field being grouped with the other fields that are notoriously underfunded and under appreciated. To some level, many negative stereotypes are applied to the academic portion of our field because it is not perceived as rigorous as hard science curriculum.

Fact of the matter is that appreciation and more pay would be nice, but the fundamentals of the social work field prevent this from happening due the nature of our society. In our capitalist market economy driven world, more jobs are going to be available in sectors where there is a demand for workers. In recent history, this has been the science and tech industry and not the humanities or social sciences. Additionally, today's economic world is heavily driven by production and profit. While social workers help many people with whatever issues they may be facing in life, they do not exactly produce a tangible and profitable product. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked, "How exactly do you measure productivity among social workers?" Indeed, it is quite difficult to quantify the end results of what we do on a mathematical or economic scale.

I don't think the problem is that social workers, social science majors, and humanities are unimportant. The issue is that the worth of our profession/degree is defined in terms of the world market. Sociologists and psychologists study the plight of the disenfranchised. While admirable, the surplus of these majors does not bode well for one looking for work. English, philosophy, art, film, and music majors are important in furthering culture in our society. Unfortunately, the important of culture in the past few centuries has been greatly diminished by advents in science, greatly increasing competition among artists, writers, and thinkers and hence decreasing the amount of money and job opportunities in these fields. As for social work, social workers oftentimes work with undesirable populations in situations that generally do not produce profit. In today's world, there is certainly a need for social workers to pick up after the mess society leaves behind. Unfortunately, the nature of what we do and who we work with may not lead to prestigious jobs with high salaries. Despite constant talk among social workers and social work organizations about advocating for more respect and better pay, I'm skeptical to think that any big change is going to happen unless there is a major paradigm shift away from the current economic philosophies that run this world.

I suppose when choosing a career, one must evaluate what is important to them. If you want to study sociology, but place more importance in making money, realize that with your degree you'll probably have to do more work in the long run to achieve wealth as opposed to if choose more lucrative field in the hard sciences instead. Hence, if being wealthy is important to you, then it's best to think about the profitability of your future career. Essentially, it's what you value in life. If one feels that being wealthy is the only way to achieve happiness, I'm not opposed to them pursuing a lucrative career. However, there are some things simply cannot be measured in terms of supply, demand, profit, and monetary worth. Life is temporary, and money can only take you so far and buy you so much.


  1. It all depends on what you value more--the production of wealth for yourself, or doing what makes you feel good about yourself, knowing the money will never arrive.

    As for the job front, many of these so-called "derelict fields" can cross over to other, more productive modes of work. I think employers share the blame for degree-discrimination.

    My own father used to tell me, "Do whatever you want--just don't become an Art Historian."

  2. Hello Heidi,

    You make a very interesting point regarding degree-discrimination. There are many degrees out there that are stereotyped as "easy way out degrees", which reflects poorly on those studying such subjects. In a world economy that seems to find more value in math and science skills, this trend may unfortunately continue for a while. I for one fear the type of world we would have if we didn't have those who specialized in humanities and the social sciences in school.

    If I were ever to have kids, I would definitely encourage them to pursue their interests. I would also have them think of contingency career paths in the event they find themselves unhappy with their careers or wanting more money. I suppose that sort of thinking comes from the social worker in me!

    Thanks for visiting!

  3. These individuals expressed their frustrations at not being able to find a job and thankfulness that their parents allowed them to move back home. masters degree in social work