Examining the Racial Gap in Earnings for Bachelor’s Degree Holders: Wide Variations Across Major Disciplines

A new report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University finds that on average a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn 84 percent more over the course of his or her lifetime than a peer who only graduated from high school. So going to college continues to provide a major economic benefit.

But the earnings benefit of a college degree is not uniform across the major disciplines. And the racial gap in earnings can be quite different depending on the degree earned. In the field of education, black and white college graduates average identical earnings of $42,000. But in some areas, the racial earnings gap is large. For example, for year-round, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree and no graduate degree, the racial gap in earnings for engineering is $20,000. But for graduates in the humanities and psychology, the racial earnings gap is only $4,000.

The Georgetown study further broke down the earnings data into specific majors. The results showed that for blacks the highest earning major was electrical engineering. Black graduates in this field had median earnings of $68,000. However, this was $22,000 lower than the median earnings of whites with bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering.

Other degree fields where black bachelor’s degree holders had median earnings above $60,000 were mechanical engineering, information sciences, computer science, general engineering, and nursing. Blacks and whites with nursing degrees had identical median earnings.

The bachelor’s degree field with the lowest median earnings for blacks is general medical and health sciences. Black bachelor’s degree holders in this field had median earnings of $32,000. This was $18,000 below the level for whites.

Other majors where black bachelor’s degree holders had median incomes below $40,000 were early childhood education, family and consumer sciences, human services and community organization, social work, fine arts, and physical fitness. In all these fields, whites had higher median earnings, although in many cases the differences were small.

Readers who are interested in downloading the complete 182-page report, can do so here.