A recent study of 82,000 graduates has found that students in the humanities and the social sciences often have more stable careers than their peers. Earnings from more lucrative fields, such as computer science, were found to be more vulnerable to shifts in the economy.
The study looks at each graduating class from the University of Ottawa between 1998 and 2012, and tracks their average earnings in the years after graduating.
While all fields had an upward trend over the years, some were much more volatile than others, such as math and computer science.
Those who graduated with a computer science degree in 1998 earned an average $62,000 in their first year of work, which rose to $100,000 after 13 years of work.
Only a few years later their average first-year income dropped to $44,000, right around the time of the dot-com bust.
“It is remarkable how much those earnings drop. Those who entered the labour market at the bottom of the dot-com bust were students when earnings were their highest,” said Ross Finnie, the study’s co-author and director of the Education Policy Research Initiative at the University of Ottawa.
This pattern repeats with the 2008 financial crisis. While most disciplines suffered a drop in average first year earnings, some of them were much more severe.
Students in the social sciences and humanities had a low degree of volatility; their incomes generally trended upward throughout the years regardless of the graduating year. Still, first-year earnings by computer science graduates were higher than both those in humanities and social sciences every year.
According to the study, recent computer science graduates won’t be entering as troubled a market as their predecessors.
“The market as a whole is short of new employees, so all the small, lesser known companies are competing for your attention as a possible hire,” said Devin Jeanpierre, a recent University of Toronto graduate who now works for Google.
The initiative is planning to expand to cover more universities next year. This will give prospective students more information in deciding which school they wish to attend, and what field they want to enter.
“Nobody needs this information more than the 14 or 15-year-old who is contemplating a field of study,” said Don Drummond, former chief economist of Toronto Dominion Bank
These earnings aren’t set in stone, however many of the fields feature a high-degree of variance, such as in business, where top-earning graduates make tens of thousands more than any other field.
“Businesses have been very vocal in the last couple of years that universities are not producing the types of skills they need, but I have never talked to a business person who did not give the impression that if you allowed them to control the university curriculum it would not all be destroyed. … The one thing we do know is that the needs of today are never the needs of tomorrow; you have to train people to learn,” said Drummond.