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A new study from Northwestern University examines the relationship between income, college selectivity and majors.

“Public discussion tends to assume that majors will lead to remunerative careers if they are vocationally oriented and math-intensive but are less practically valuable if they are academic and focused on verbal skills,” the report says. “Our results support some of these assumptions and cast doubt on others. Majors do matter a great deal. In general, the highest-paid majors are those that are occupationally specific and lead to math-intensive jobs. However, career paths can require both math and writing skills: often the most valuable majors lead to jobs that require both skills, and the least valuable lead to jobs that require neither. Majors that are occupationally distinct are often math-intensive, but the association is not perfect.”

The report adds, “Institution selectivity benefits majors leading to jobs that require either type of academic skill, but the effect is about twice as large for majors leading to math-intensive jobs as those leading to writing-intensive jobs. The positive relationship between selectivity and academic skills is the opposite of the relationship we find between selectivity and specificity: the return to specificity decreases as selectivity increases.”

The authors of the report are Deborah M. Weiss and Matthew L. Spitzer of Northwestern, Colton Cronin of Vanderbilt University, and Neil Chin of Columbia University.