The Richest Kids At Your College Majored In English

At my school, at least, you might have been hard-pressed to identify the wealthiest students by sight. Most everyone wandered around in thrift-store clothes and cheap watches; we lived on campus in the same dorms without cars. As The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker points out, though, there is one pretty reliable way to figure out whose parents have money and whose don’t. Just look at what people major in.

yes, the amount of money a college student’s parents make does correlate with what that person studies. Kids from lower-income families tend toward “useful” majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts.

Communications, Sociology, and Economics are all up there, too. In essence, if you might have a trust fund to fall back on, you don’t have to worry about studying something practical. You can get really into Foucault instead, or Film. Whereas if you hail from a less-privileged socioeconomic background, you might choose to focus on Agriculture, Nursing, or Law Enforcement/Firefighting.

Rich kids get the luxury of the abstract. Poorer kids are less buffered from reality and their college careers, on average, are more about the concrete.

Quoctrung Bui of NPR’s Planet Money pulled data from the National Longitudinal Study and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and noticed that doctors and surgeons tended to come from families with lower incomes than musicians and artists. When compared to their parents, doctors on average improved on their parents’ income by 40 percent. Artists, though, trailed their parents’ earnings by 35 percent. (Planet Money’s table showing these relationships are worth looking through.)

What’s funny, though, if you look at the chart, is that most of the parents’ incomes being considered are pretty close to $100,000. Yes, a 17-year-old whose household pulls in $70K a year is less well off than a 17-year-old whose household pulls in $98K, but not by that much. Especially when you consider that, as we recently learned, the median net worth of an American household is only $56,000, it seems like all of these kids are doing okay. Maybe some of them are more okay, and can afford to major in Drama and History while others, who need to worry more about the future, tackle Lab Sciences. But for the most part, these are the kids who are going to be all right.

What do children do whose parents make less than $60-$70K a year? Many of them get jobs for which they don’t need a Bachelor’s or even an Associate’s, which means they are unlikely to exceed their parents’ incomes.

Artists and actors won’t exceed their parents’ incomes either — in fact, they will vastly underperform, relative to their parents — but that, after all, is the real American dream. To make enough money that your kids don’t have to worry about earning any.

Planet Money lays it out for us.

The key takeaway from all of this is that, if you’re at college and you need a loan, ask an English major. Not only is she more likely to have disposable income, but she also maybe feels guilty about her privilege! Work with that.

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