English majors have similar salary earnings, life quality than other degree holders, report

English literature and language majors were found to have peak median earnings compared to many other majors, including business management and public policy.

Despite questions around the value of an English degree, graduates who earned one were found to possess similar rates of life satisfaction, peak salary earnings and unemployment rates to non-English degree graduates, according to a recent report by the Association of Departments of English (ADE), a subsidiary of the Modern Language Association.

The Report on English Majors’ Career Preparation and Outcomes draws on quantitative data from multiple U.S. government resources and contributions from independent research centers, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Humanities Alliance and the Hamilton Project. The majority of data was pulled from records between 2018 and 2021.

English literature and language majors were found to have comparable peak median earnings compared to many other majors, including business management and public policy. Those who earned a bachelor’s degree in English earned $76,000, while non-English majors earned $78,000. Students with a special interest in humanities were found to experience a seven-grand bump, totaling $83,000. Graduate degree earners, regardless of their major, reached a peak median earning of $86,000, which is only about a 3.6% increase.

The unemployment rate for English majors was 2.3%, which is near that of all college graduates and those on different academic paths. For example, the rate was 2.13% for humanities degree holders, 2.0% for business, engineering and philosophy majors, and 1.9% for physical science and history majors. Regardless of major, students’ unemployment rates were 2.17%.

While non-humanities majors edged out their counterparts when it comes to median earnings and employment, life satisfaction and life fulfillment rates were nearly on par. Bachelor’s degree holders in the humanities (the data set here could not differentiate humanities majors from English majors) reported an 87% life satisfaction rate compared to the 90% who reported the same outside of humanities. However, humanities-based students who earned a graduate degree reported a four percentage point bump to 91%. This is an important caveat considering that nearly half (45%) of English majors pursue graduate or professional school programs after earning their bachelor’s.

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What stands in English majors’ way to increasing student outcomes?

It’d be easy to assume that the reason English majors have lower median earnings than non-English majors is strictly to do with the quality of the degree. However, it may be tied to a deeper national problem with the female wage gap, according to the report.

Among the 75th percentile of earners, the gap between the median average earnings of men and women widens to about 25%. The gap rises to nearly 30% for those humanities majors with an advanced degree. At the 25th percentile, the difference lessens to 15%. This gap is even more alarming when considering that 69% of all English majors since 1966 have been women.

English departments may also be less likely to embrace career preparation as it threatens the “intellectual labor” of the degree, the report adds. For example, several survey respondents observed that academics were not required to connect academia to prospective employment opportunities.

“Many tenured academics set their sights on an academic job from an early stage, focusing their career preparation on that one goal, and this mindset can be hard to shift,” the report reads.

ADE suggests English faculty collaborate with career advisors who are better-versed in the development market. To see ADE’s full set of suggestions on how to improve the career outcomes of English majors—including how to better connect with alumni, develop departmental websites and curricular innovation—check out the report here.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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