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What the Top 1% of Earners Majored In
By Robert Gebeloff and Shaila Dewan, New York Times
Mon, Jan 23, 2012

We got an interesting question from an academic adviser at a Texas university: could we tell what the top 1 percent of earners majored in?

The writer, sly dog, was probably trying to make a point, because he wrote from a biology department, and it turns out that biology majors make up nearly 7 percent of college graduates who live in households in the top 1 percent.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, the majors that give you the best chance of reaching the 1 percent are pre-med, economics, biochemistry, zoology and, yes, biology, in that order.

Below is a chart showing the majors most likely to get into the 1 percent (excluding majors held by fewer than 50,000 people in 2010 census data). The third column shows the percentage of degree holders with that major who make it into the 1 percent. The fourth column shows the percent of the 1 percent (among college grads) that hold that major. In other words, more than one in 10 people with a pre-med degree make it into the 1 percent, and about 1 in 100 of the 1 percenters with degrees majored in pre-med.

Of course, choice of major is not the only way to increase your chances of reaching the 1 percent, if that is your goal. There is also the sector you choose.

A separate analysis of census data on occupations showed that one in eight lawyers, for example, are in the 1 percent -- unless they work for a Wall Street firm, when their chances increase to one in three. Among chief executives, fewer than one in five rank among the 1 percent, but their chances increase if the company produces medical supplies (one in four) or drugs (two in five). Hollywood writers? One in nine are 1 percenters. Television or radio writers? One in 14. Newspaper writers and editors? One in 62.

Undergraduate Degree                                                  Total / % Who Are 1 Percenters / Share of All 1 Percenters

Health and Medical Preparatory Programs                      142,345    11.8%    0.9%
Economics                                                                 1,237,863    8.2%    5.4%
Biochemical Sciences                                                    193,769    7.2%    0.7%
Zoology                                                                         159,935    6.9%    0.6%
Biology                                                                       1,864,666    6.7%    6.6%
International Relations                                                     146,781    6.7%    0.5%
Political Science and Government                                 1,427,224    6.2%    4.7%
Physiology                                                                       98,181    6.0%    0.3%
Art History and Criticism                                                 137,357    5.9%    0.4%
Chemistry                                                                      780,783    5.7%    2.4%
Molecular Biology                                                             64,951    5.6%    0.2%
Area, Ethnic and Civilization Studies                                184,906    5.2%    0.5%
Finance                                                                       1,071,812    4.8%    2.7%
History                                                                        1,351,368    4.7%    3.3%
Business Economics                                                      108,146    4.6%    0.3%
Miscellaneous Psychology                                                61,257    4.3%    0.1%
Philosophy and Religious Studies                                     448,095    4.3%    1.0%
Microbiology                                                                   147,954    4.2%    0.3%
Chemical Engineering                                                      347,959    4.1%    0.8%
Physics                                                                          346,455    4.1%    0.7%
Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration    334,016    3.9%    0.7%
Accounting                                                                   2,296,601    3.9%    4.7%
Mathematics                                                                    840,137    3.9%    1.7%
English Language and Literature                                     1,938,988    3.8%    3.8%
Miscellaneous Biology                                                        52,895    3.7%    0.1%

To see 5 Winning Careers for 2012, a link to Monster, and read this story online, click here

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