Coffee House

How much does a degree improve your lifetime earnings?

18 February 2014

5:20 PM

18 February 2014

5:20 PM

What do you say to an arts graduate? Hamburger and fries, please. It’s an old joke but one that still rings true as students consider the value of a university education. A new survey from the graduate recruitment site Totaljobs.com today suggests that 40 per cent of graduates are still looking for work six months after graduating, whilst a quarter are still unemployed a year later. The news isn’t much for those who manage to bag a job – the latest ONS’ employment figures suggest that nearly half of graduates who have found work are in jobs that don’t require degrees.

But even if the student of today takes the jump into higher education, should they consider how much going to university will affect their earnings over a working lifetime? The OECD reckons a degree is worth at least £100k but there’s a significant disparity between subjects as well as the sex of the students. Research from the Department for Business shows that for males, a medicine or dentistry degree will add nearly £400k to your lifetime earnings while a creative arts/design degree will make you £15k worse off. On average, males can expect to earn £121k from a degree. Here’s the breakdown by subjects:

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For female students, the difference isn’t quite as extreme. On average, females will earn £82k more over a lifetime. A medicine or dentistry degree will still add another £340k but a creative/arts degree will add £27k:

The monetary difference of a degree will no doubt be a key topic at the next Spectator debate on 4 March. Our panel will debating whether an arts degree is a waste of time and money. As the figures above demonstrate, such a degree is no longer a guarantee of solid employment in a good job.

The author Will Self, Wellington College’s Anthony Seldon, Sun columnist Katie Hopkins and our contributing editor Harry Cole will all be debating the pros and cons of studying an arts degree. Book your tickets here.

More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.




Show comments
  • Lord Dench

    As someone soon to start history at Oxford, I should give up now I reckon

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    What do you say to a PhD graduate?
    Big Mac and an order of fries.
    Do try to get it right, Seb.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Be nice if you could learn to spell “business”.

  • JabbaTheCat

    “The author Will Self”

    Is there an oxymoron lurking in that line?

  • Makroon

    To answer the headline question – nobody knows, nor will ever know.
    People who take degrees are aspirational and often driven, they would probably have done better than the average whatever path they had taken.
    It is an academic conceit that the “value-added” by academia can be measured. Many academics are without doubt value-destroyers.

  • http://www.grb.uk.com/ Dan Hawes

    These stats are useful for students (or parents) considering their “Return On Investment” with their Uni and Degree choice, but not in isolation. Knowledge of a Degree subject coupled with the experience Uni offers on so many levels means it can be difficult to truly quantify whether going to Uni is worth it. We think it can be.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      So you admit you can’t quantify it of any value, and thus acknowledge the reasons behind this argument. Let us know if you develop any quantification supporting your blind assertions.

      • http://www.grb.uk.com/ Dan Hawes

        I speak as someone who is an advocate of Education for which there are countless benefits would you not agree?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          I’d refine your self description. You’re an advocate for “education” at all costs. The value of that “education” is at issue, but the costs are not, and the benefits redound to you, which is likely what you’re really advocating.

  • black11hawk

    How is social studies so high up?

    • Ron Todd

      Lots of well paid and well pointless jobs in the public sector.

  • Frank

    Absurd analysis by the Dept of Business (mind you, typical that they should have done this analysis), the point of any degree (although this is not that manifest with pure vocational degrees and or a PPE degree!!) is that it should teach you to think.

  • grutchyngfysch

    Part of the issue is expectations – a lot of the unsuccessful arts grads (mostly traditional subjects – History, Literature, Classics etc.) I know have basically gone into the world trying to “apply” their degree much the same way that an engineer would apply their engineering knowledge to carrying out an engineering job. The problem is, there isn’t much call for postmodernist criticism of authority outside the academe and the BBC, so most of them end up underemployed – not because they *couldn’t* do better work, but because, paradoxically, they’ve approached their degee as though it was a vocational subject.

    By contrast, only one of “Hard” subject graduates (excluding Medicine – i.e. the STE part of STEM) has remained in anything like his own subject. Almost all of them have gone into finance, politics, government etc. in fields that in no way relate to their subject matter. Not all of them had particularly great degree results either – but what STEM seems to teach far far better than humanities is that the kinds of skills they acquire in data analysis, project management, or even straigh-up numeracy, are applicable across a range of subjects. The only general exception that I’ve anecdotally observe is philosophy grads, who seem about as good as their STEM colleagues in understanding *how* to apply their education.

    It’s easy to make some sort of facile comment about how STEM is just for clever people – but the reality is that a good Humanities student will have plenty of strong skills themselves that are also always in demand (and if they worked in sub-disciplines of subjects like History they may possess identical skills sets on data analysis etc. to STEM grads). But they seem to swing between having no awareness that they need to adapt to what employers want, or an outright refusal to do so because it somehow “sullies” the knowledge they have acquired to put it to use.

  • Daniel Maris

    Surely the real test of value is what percentage of graduates ever say “I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on that degree.” I suspect that very few would ever admit to that – maybe under 2%.

    • Kitty MLB

      It really depends on the actual degree,
      With a traditional degree that generally leads
      to a career then no.
      Yet Blair thought everyone should have a university
      education, regardless of suitability,which no doupt
      was a waste of time-these I guess would be the students
      who would have regretted university and should
      have found another path.

  • glurk

    Frankly, any form of education that means learning to construct and use (possibly even spell) the language and divide the apt from the inapt clearly has to be a bonus for the employer and the individual. A one man band I work with who has an expanding business has had to give up employing people, young and old, because he cant separate them from their mobiles! He’s at a loss what to do!

  • el tigger

    How does the above reflect those who do a non-law degree and then do the conversion course? I know many arts graduates who did just that.

    • Ricky Strong

      I shall let you know. I did politics and am now doing the GDL. Though I must admit there are no arts graduates on my course.

      • el tigger

        Well as a lawyer and ex-history graduate (it was obvious, wasn’t it?) I earn about double what my history professor father does.
        My q was more where the above charts take the change of direction into account – in the law column or the arts graduates column?
        Still, the best degree to read is engineering. They can do *anything* (banking, consultancy, engineering…)

        • Ricky Strong

          Ah, a fellow converter! Slightly off topic but did you find having a non-law degree to be of benefit in securing a contract?

          • el tigger

            Nothing to compare it to really! But if you demonstrate your qualitative analytical skills they should appreciate that everything else can be learned.

  • Alexsandr

    It depends if you regard doing a degree as a life enhancing experience or as training for a job. The emphasis has changed over the years. the sheer numbers of people with degrees make them nothing special any more so the vocational part has gained more weight.
    but now people have to consider the cost of getting a degree and the ability to pay it back, unlike the days of all fees paid and a maintenance grant.

    • telemachus

      It is our duty as a Society to expand the minds of our young
      This as you perhaps imply is an end in itself

      • Alexsandr

        but what percentage of 18 yr olds would benefit? I think our views would diverge when I say that a degree should be for the brightest, not for everyone.

        • Ron Todd

          More people should have further education or training after school but we cannot pretend that 50% of school leavers are suited to do the types of degree that were done when only 10% went to university. Since not all those that would qualify to go will go, we would have people of less than average ability doing degrees. The result would be either a lot of degrees that are far less rigorous than the old standards or having a lot of students dropping out before completing the course.

          • telemachus

            We have classes of degree and entry to higher degrees to differentiate but must not deny opportunity to those who desire it
            We all benefit from a highly educated population

            • Ron Todd

              We do not need to call every post school qualification a degree. Some courses will expand the mind, a lot that are vocational training will not, and the higher degrees where people look at narrower and narrower fields in greater and greater detail probably don’t either.

              • Alexsandr

                quite. I think vocational training is vastly underrated.

              • telemachus

                Oh but they do
                Deep enquiry is one of the best ways of training the mind

                • Ron Todd

                  Are you speaking from experience?

                • telemachus

                  Writing a thesis is one of the most intellectually invigorating tasks known to man

                • Ron Todd

                  I’ll have to take your word for that

                • telemachus

                  Ask Angela Merkel about physical chemistry

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Didn’t work with you though. Between your ears is a dense block of wood dyed red.

        • telemachus

          And just who are you to judge just who should expand their minds
          You may wish to tailor the courses to innate intelligence, but have no right to deny higher education to those who desire it

          • Alexsandr

            A degree is supposed to show a level of intelligence and other analytical talents. If you dont have the required ability then you should not be doing a degree.
            That is not to say you should not be in education, just not doing a degree. Horses for courses.

            • telemachus

              Internationally folks get degrees for post high school education
              We must give our youth equivalence

              • Alexsandr

                socialst claptrap. we need a qualification for our gifted kids to aspire to so they grow. If they get a bit of paper everyone gets then whats the point?
                and we need our gifted kids educated and motivated.

                • telemachus

                  You miss the point
                  There is a class on the degree and as said above the very bright go on to higher degrees

                • Alexsandr

                  but a desmond or a douglas isnt worth anything. so we are asking kids to pay £1000’s of pounds for worthless paper.

                • Kitty MLB

                  I see my degree and the years of study
                  as far more then worthless paper thankyou.

                • Ron Todd

                  I would have to concede that you are right on that point.Would it be practical to have an expanded range of classes consistently awarded between different universities? The bit of paper I got at what was then a college (many many years ago) being the lowest level up to a good degree at an elite university at the top. Then of course have the higher degrees on top of that.

                • telemachus

                  Intrinsically your bit of paper will be the same as a degree from the reinvented institution which now gives degrees but to the say Chinese the latter carries more weight

                • saffrin

                  How does one indentify the brightest since Labour dumbed down the state education system to the lowest denominator?

                  All things being equal, students alike.

                • telemachus

                  An idle stupid comment
                  In any degree course the bright shine

                • saffrin

                  Not since your government successfully made degree courses worthless.
                  About as worthless as the Hutton report in fact.

                • Fergus Pickering

                  Do you know, I never actually got the bit of paper. I got the degree but not the bit of paper. .And nobody has ever asked for it.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  …probably because what you do just doesn’t make it worth the asking.

              • Ron Todd

                Giving somebody a bit of paper with the same title on it is not equivalence. Give them the best qualification that they are capable off and give it a name that clearly and honestly indicates te nature of the qualification. We do not need to do what other countries do especially if we can do better.

                • telemachus

                  In these days of international migration we need equivalence

                • Alexsandr

                  lets rename a-levels as degrees and save the expence of universities then!

                • telemachus

                  No
                  The point is expanding the mind beyond school

                • Ron Todd

                  Why aim to be the same why not aim to be better.

                • telemachus

                  Agree
                  But do not deny the right of English Students to titles used by the Krauts etc with often less work

                • Ron Todd

                  Give them a title that makes it clear the qualifications are better then.

                • Alexsandr

                  ‘Degree from an English University’

            • Tim Spencer

              don’t you mean “courses for horses” ??

      • Colonel Mustard

        There are some comments here that you haven’t harassed and tagged yet you megalomaniac creepoid.

        What a thoroughly nasty little spud you are.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    People who even think that question, never mind act on it, need a lobotomy quick and then go into banking.

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