Degree Choices That Pay: Why is generation Y opting out?

Lillian Pierson, P.E.

Lillian Pierson, P.E.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This month’s engineering statistics story is all about Generation Y young people and the decisions they’re making when it comes to choosing a career path.

A close look at PayScale data shows that, despite the fact that engineering degrees lead to high paying jobs, most Generation Y students have opted out of this degree path. Rather than go for the degree path that leads to high average wages, Generation Y students are taking degrees that tend to lead towards lower incomes.

This trend becomes even more perplexing in light of the fact that the cities in which employers are hiring are rather costly places in which to live. It’s not unusual for a graduate of one of the more popular Gen Y degree programs to have insufficient earnings to sustain living in one of the cities where good jobs are located (Boston, Washington D.C., and NYC). All of this points to one central question…

In financially uncertain times like these, what’s prompting these Generation Y students to feel safe in choosing the smaller-earning career paths in the face of high-earning paths like those offered of the engineering discipline?

degree choices 1

Degree Choices That Pay: Why is generation Y opting out?

GenY Degree Choices (5)

How do engineering degrees fare?

Although degrees in the engineering discipline lead to jobs that assume 17 places among the top 28 highest paying jobs on the market, not one of these engineering degree plans is among the list of most popular Generation Y degree choices.

table 1

Table 1. Engineering Degrees on the ‘Top Paying’ Degree List

Somehow, despite the high average earnings of engineering degree holders, generation Y students are opting to take majors in areas that don’t even rank on the list of ‘top paying’ degrees. (Although, admittedly there are a few overlaps between the two lists, all overlaps are non-engineering degree choices that don’t even rank that high on the ‘top paying’ list.)

How do engineering degrees fare? Well, according to PayScale, they appear to fare quite well.

table 2

Table 2. Popular Degrees – Annual Earnings

What’s interesting from Table 2, is that the top two most popular degree plans are, in fact, STEM degrees. The problem is that neither of these jobs made the ‘top paying’ list. As you can see from the table of popular degrees, Generation Y students seem to be interested in softer studies – like those related to languages, communications, sports, politics, arts, and design. In one sense, this trend is a good thing because it indicates that students are likely following their passions, rather than chasing the almighty dollar. That’s great! The problem, however, is that jobs aren’t readily available and when these students finally do get placed, it’s likely that they’ll end up having to live in a rather expensive city.

In what city will you find a job and can you afford to live there? 

quote

Among its reports, PayScale also showed that Washington D.C., New York City, and Boston are overwhelmingly popular cities where Generation Y young people are able to land jobs. According to data derived from Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2014 Worldwide Cost of Living Report, these three cities rank among the top five most expensive US cities in which to live. To get just a small apartment and public transportation, you can expect to spend $32,124/year in Boston, $33,156/year in Washington D.C., and $51,720/year in New York City. But what about expenditures required for things like food, health care, retirement, and student loan payments? Earning meager salaries while living in such expensive cities leaves little to no room to pay for these other essentials.

All of this begs the question: Generation Y young people, in the face of such financial insecurity, do you realize that engineering offers you a relatively safe earnings future, and if so, why are you opting out?

 

“This is a contribution that I originally made to Statistics Views website back in November, 2014. If you’re interested in learning more about the practice of data science, or how you can learn to do it yourself, make sure to check out Data-Mania’s learning resources.”

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