The Census Bureau posted some information about the economic payoff of a college degree on their blog, Random Samplings. A recent report indicated that educational level had a bigger impact than any other demographic factor on lifetime earnings. More education leads to both higher incomes not just because those with more education receive higher salaries, but also because they are more likely to be in full-time jobs. The x-axis here shows the % of people in full-time, year-round jobs:
Not surprisingly, the gap in earnings widens over time, especially for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree compared to those with less:
The report also estimated lifetime earnings by race/ethnicity for men and women separately. As they point out, except for a couple of cases at the very highest educational levels, men from even the most economically disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups out-earn women from the most economically advantaged ones:
Of course, not all college degrees are equal. Dolores R. sent in a link to an interactive table from the Wall Street Journal that lets you look at earnings and the unemployment rate for various majors. I sorted them by median earnings; here are the ten with the lowest median earnings:
The highest unemployment rate? Clinical psychology, at 19.5%.
You can also search by area (art, engineering, etc.), though it looks like the categorization may be a little sketchy — for instance, “geology and earth science” and “liberal arts” show up under the arts.
For more on college majors, earnings, and future career opportunities, see the report College Clusters: Forecasting Demand for High School through College Jobs, 2008-2018, from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.