The Census Bureau's headquarters in Suitland, Md.

The Census Bureau's headquarters in Suitland, Md. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

People who majored in engineering in college had the highest earnings in 2011 of any bachelor's degree field, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Wednesday. A second report shows workers' earnings over the length of their careers are affected by many factors, such as how far they went in college, what they majored in and what field of work they pursued.

The workers who had majored in engineering had median earnings of $92,000 a year. Majors with the lowest median annual incomes -- $55,000 or less -- included the visual and performing arts, communications, education and psychology, according to the bureau.

Those who had majored in the science and engineering fields and business, the bureau said, tended to have higher percentages of people who worked full-time, year-round: 64.7 percent among workers age 25 and up with a bachelor's in engineering; 64.1 percent for those with a bachelor's in business and 66.6 percent for those with a bachelor's in computer, mathematics and statistics fields.

On the other end of the spectrum, workers with a bachelor's in education -- the second most popular major after business, the bureau report said -- were the least likely to be employed full-time, year-round, at 41 percent.

Said Jason Cascone, LIU Post's director of career development:

"It seems obvious that someone going into engineering will, over the course of their career, average more [in earnings] than those in fields such as the visual and performing arts or psychology by virtue of the availability of jobs in the field and the general average salary that one is paid in the industry."

Cascone suggested other factors than salaries must be considered when focusing on a career. "Do students express concern about earning potential? Yes they do. But not everyone is interested in being an engineer, for instance. So other factors, like ability, interest and values, many times play a more integral part in choice."

In a second study focusing on work-life earnings estimates by field of degree and occupation, the bureau said the difference between a high school diploma and a college degree is about $1 million over the length of a career. Similarly, the bureau estimated that the difference for workers with a bachelor's degree and those with a doctorate is another $1 million.

The report said a worker with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn about $2.4 million over his or her working life.

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