Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Hire Me
Credit: johnjreiser/Flickr

The employment picture is improving for STEM majors

The years since the financial collapse of 2008 have been tough on young workers, but times seem to be improving for many, according to a new report on college graduates from employment expert Anthony P. Carnevale and economist Ban Cheah, both of the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce in Washington, D.C. Entitled From Hard Times to Better Times: College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings and using data from 2011 and 2012, the report is the third installment of the Hard Times series.. It groups people by undergraduate major. Those who majored in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields fared better than those in a number of other fields, they found, but some of the STEM fields performed considerably better than others.

Unemployment rates dropped for STEM majors overall, but they remained high for recent bachelor’s  degree holders in the “computers, statistics, and mathematics” category, who had an average unemployment rate of 8.3% between 2011 and 2012. (The report “pool[s] two years of data from each annual American Community Survey to increase the sample size,” the authors write.) That was the highest unemployment rate of all the STEM fields, but it was lower than the rate for such non-STEM majors as architecture, art, and social science; indeed, recent architecture and social science graduates had an unemployment rate higher than the average for experienced workers with just a high school diploma. That high unemployment rate for recent math, statistics, and computer bachelor’s degree holders was high, but it was down from 9.1% during the 2010-2011 period.

At $114,000, engineering majors aged 35 to 54 who held graduate degrees had the highest average earnings of any category, followed by comparably aged and degreed physical science majors at $105,000.

The 2011-2012 unemployment rate for undergraduate computer majors age 34 and under who had also earned graduate degrees was much better: 3.5%, down from 3.9% during the previous period. (Graduate degree holders are categorized according to their undergraduate degrees; the report does not specify the field of the graduate degrees or the type of work people are doing.)

In terms of unemployment, physical science majors fared best of all the STEM fields, at 5.0% unemployment in the 2011-2012 period for the recent college graduates and 2.9% for the recent graduate degree holders, down from 6.3% and 3.1%, respectively, in the 2010-2011 period. Next came the engineering majors, with 6.5% unemployment for the recent graduates in the 2011-2012 period, down from 7.4%, and 2.8%, down from 3.2%, for recent graduate degree holders. The unemployment figures for biology and life sciences were 7.4%, down from 7.7% in the 2010-2011 period, for the recent graduates and 2.6%, down from 2.7% in the 2010-2011 period, for recent graduate degree recipients.

Unfortunately, even as unemployment rates have fallen, salaries in most categories have fallen overall. Still, young graduate degree holders in computers and in health—and experienced workers in agriculture and natural resources—showed substantial gains in salary over a 3-year period.

Though suffering the worst unemployment rate among STEM fields, computer, statistics, and math majors did well in terms of income, with the recent graduates averaging $48,000 a year in the 2011-2012 period and recent graduate degree holders earning $79,000—$1000 higher than engineering majors with recent graduate degrees. Recent engineering graduates topped all the other STEM majors—indeed, all recent undergraduate majors of any kind—averaging $57,000. Recent social science graduates earned $37,000; those with recent graduate degrees earned $62,000. Physical science had average earnings of $34,000 for recent graduates and $59,000 for recent graduate degree recipients. Among the STEM fields, biology and life science majors came last in earnings, with salaries of $32,000 and $57,000 for recent graduate degree holders.

At $114,000, engineering majors aged 35 to 54 who held graduate degrees had the highest average earnings of any category, followed by comparably aged and degreed physical science majors at $105,000. Experienced computer and life science workers who held graduate degrees came next, at $104,000. Keep in mind that we don’t know what kind of work these people are doing; it’s likely that many are in fields other than their college majors. You can find the report here.

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers