Recently, I was browsing through some data from the U.S. Census when I stumbled upon a great table in the 2007 census data. On page 9 of this report, entitled Educational Attainment in the United States, one can find a very interesting table that describes the median earnings for workers aged 25 and over, sorted out by education.
For full time, year-round workers, here are the findings:
Workers without a high school diploma earn $24,964 a year on average.
Workers with just a high school diploma earn $32,862 a year on average.
Workers with some college and/or an associate’s degree earn $40,769 a year on average.
Workers with a bachelor’s degree earn $56,118 a year on average.
Workers with a higher degree earn $75,140 a year on average.
Note that these numbers include all types of degrees and also include all workers aged 25 and over, which means that the number includes a huge range of career paths and stages on those career paths.
But the numbers themselves are impressive.
Simply completing a high school diploma earns you $8,000 more a year (on average) for the rest of your life.
Getting an associate’s degree or completing trade school gets you $8,000 more a year (on average) for life beyond a high school diploma.
Getting a bachelor’s degree gets you $23,000 a year more (on average) for life beyond a high school diploma.
Getting a higher degree gets you $19,000 a year more (on average) beyond a bachelor’s degree and $42,000 a year more (on average) beyond a high school diploma.
Simply put, education is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. It drastically increases your earnings.
Hand in hand with that, however, is finding the right area of study for you.
Every job field is competitive and the people who have the most skills end up earning the best salary in their fields. The best way to build skills is to work with great passion doing something over and over again because you simply enjoy doing it.
Let’s take a look at a few specific careers for examples of this, using data from Payscale.com.
The average computer programmer earns between $38,764 and $62,916 – a $24,000 spread.
The average accountant earns between $35,574 and $51,518 – a $16,000 spread.
The average physical therapist earns between $57,983 and $76,298 – an $18,000 spread.
Those are just a few examples, but the pattern is clear – there’s a huge gap between the low end and the high end. Some of this is location based, but a great deal of the spread is competition-based – the best candidates get the best jobs. Even more important, it doesn’t include people who prepared for a career and didn’t make it, winding up in another field, often with lower pay.
Education is vital in terms of lifetime earnings. Knowing what to study – a field that matches your interests and talents – is just as vital. You’re far better off getting a degree and excelling in an area you’re passionate about than struggling to get a degree in an area that seems to earn more on paper but doesn’t fill you with passion at all.