Law Schools

Law degrees give the biggest pay boost to students with these college majors

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Humanities majors get a median $45,000 boost in annual earnings with a law degree, compared to a median $29,000 boost for those majoring in science, technology, engineering or mathematics—the so-called STEM majors, according to estimates in a new study.

Humanities majors more than double their earnings with a law degree, compared to doubled earnings for social sciences majors, and about a 50 percent boost for business and STEM majors, according to the study estimates, available at SSRN. Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports has a summary of some of the findings.

Those figures are derived from Census Bureau data that identifies occupations and professional degree holders, but not law degree holders in particular. To approximate the group of law school graduates, the study authors looked at professional degree holders, excluding those who worked as medical professionals, accountants, grade-school and high-school teachers, education administrators, clergy and psychologists—fields where many people with professional degrees other than law degrees are likely to work.

When the study looked more narrowly at earnings for professional degree holders working only as lawyers, the median boost in annual earnings was $60,000 for humanities majors (who made median pay of $104,000 working as lawyers), $54,000 for social sciences majors (who made median pay of $102,000 working as lawyers), $49,000 for business majors (who made median pay of $109,000 working as lawyers), and $66,000 for STEM majors (who made median pay of $138,000 working as lawyers).

The study also looked at average annual earnings for specific majors among professional degree holders likely holding law degrees. Economics majors with likely JDs make the most on average—about $187,000 a year. Next come electrical engineering majors (making an average of $166,000 a year), finance majors ($155,000), mathematics majors ($154,000), history majors ($151,000), and political science majors ($150,000).

The study authors are Rutgers University economics and business professor Frank McIntyre and Seton Hall University law professor Michael Simkovic, the same professors who published a controversial study finding that a law grad will make, on average, $1 million more in a lifetime than a college grad. The peer reviewed version of that study is here (PDF).

A disproportionate number of law degree holders—48 percent—have college degrees in humanities or social sciences. Only 18 percent of those with law degrees had STEM majors. “Thus the majors that are disproportionately overrepresented among law graduates—humanities and social sciences—are also the majors for whom the expected benefits of law school are the greatest,” the study says.

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