Workers with higher levels of education typically earn more money, but that is not always the case because factors such as gender, race, major, location and occupation also affect lifetime earnings, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
The CEW report, “The College Payout: More Earnings Doesn’t Always Mean More Earnings,” found that 16% of high school graduates, 23% of workers with some college education, and 28% of those with an associate degree actually earn more than half of workers with a bachelor’s degree.
“More education doesn’t always get you more money,” CEW Director and lead report author Anthony P. Carnevale said Thursday. “There’s a lot of variation in earnings related to field of study, occupation, and other factors.”
Workers in some high-paying fields can earn as much or more than workers with a higher education level across fields. Those with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and engineering have median lifetime earnings of $3.8 million, well above the median of $3.2 million for all master’s degree holders. Similarly, an associate degree holder in a computer and mathematical occupation has median lifetime earnings of $2.8 million, the same as median lifetime earnings for bachelor’s degree holders overall.
Earnings gaps by gender persist across education levels. While women with associate degrees earn a median of $1.8 over their lifetimes, men earn $2.3 million. Among workers with bachelor’s degrees, women have median lifetime earnings of $2.4 million, compared to $3.3 million for men.
Earnings patterns also diverge by race and ethnicity. While white workers have the highest median lifetime earnings across racial and ethnic groups with lower levels of education, while Asian workers have higher earnings at the master’s degree level.
At the associate degree level, white workers earn a median of $2.1 million, compared to $2 million for Asian workers, $1.9 million for Latino workers, and $1.7 million for Black workers. At the bachelor’s degree level, white workers earn a median of $2.9 million, compared to $2.9 million for Asian workers and $2.3 million for Black and Latino workers.
Lifetime earnings (adjusted for the cost of living) also vary by location among workers at the same education levels. For workers with a high school diploma, median earnings are highest in Wyoming and Alaska ($2 million) and North Dakota ($1.9 million). The District of Columbia, Connecticut, Virginia, and Maryland are the highest-earning places for bachelor’s and master’s degree holders, with median lifetime earnings above $3 million for those with a bachelor’s degree and above $3.5 million for those with a master’s degree.
Other key findings:
- While women with a high school diploma earn a median of $1.3 million over their lifetimes, men earn $1.8 million. At the master’s degree level, women earn $2.8 million, compared to $3.9 million for men.
- Among high school graduates, white workers earn a median of $1.7 million, compared to $1.4 million for Asian, Black, and Latino workers.
- At the master’s degree level, Asian workers earn $4 million, compared to $3.2 million for white workers, $3 million for Latino workers, and $2.7 million for Black workers.
- The majors with highest median lifetime earnings for bachelor’s degree holders are architecture and engineering ($3.8 million); computers, statistics, and mathematics ($3.6 million); and business ($3 million).
To view the full report, visit www.cew.georgetown.edu/collegepayoff2021.