Everyone is told that their level of formal education will greatly determine their earning potential. But is there data to support the concept of “learning more-earning more”? And is it possible that the guy who went to work after high school is making as much as the one who completed a four year degree? The answers, based on national statistics, are below…
Surprisingly, there are cases where education alone does not impact earnings at all. In fact the gaps in pay between those with an Associate, Bachelor or Master’s degree are marginal. Most of this occurs due to experience gained after graduation.
Still, there are conditions where high levels of education are linked directly with wealthy incomes. Most commonly, professions in the legal and medical fields are where this representation holds true.
Let’s take a look, using national averages gathered by the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, at the actual results of those working now, and how their level of education compares to salaries.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) assigns occupations to education categories on the basis of what is typically required to enter those occupations. As chart 1 shows, the median annual wage in occupations that typically require a degree at the entry level was higher than $37,690, the median wage for all occupations in 2017. (A median wage is the point at which half of workers earned more than this amount and half earned less.)
The top-paying occupations that typically don’t require a degree for entry also exceeded $37,690, even though the overall median annual wage for occupations in these categories paid less than that. The tables that follow show some of the variation among high-wage occupations in different education categories. For example, the best-paying occupations in which the typical entry-level education is a high school diploma had a median wage topping that of some of the highest paying associate’s degree-level occupations in 2017.
For each occupation listed, the tables also show the experience typically required at the entry level; on-the-job training typically required to attain competency; and annual openings, on average, projected from 2016 to 2026.
Doctoral or professional degree
The highest paying education category is occupations that typically require a doctoral or professional degree for entry. The BLS Occupational Employment Statistics program does not publish wages for occupations that have a median annual wage greater than or equal to $208,000. Therefore, table 1 shows mean, rather than median, wages.
The occupation of family and general practitioners is projected to have 5,600 openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026, the most of the highest paying occupations that typically require a doctoral or professional degree for entry.
All of the occupations listed in table 2 pay more than $100,000 per year at the median. This is the only educational category in which all of the highest wage occupations typically don’t have requirements for experience or on-the-job training.
The occupation of nurse practitioners is projected to have 14,400 openings annually, on average, from 2016 to 2026, the most of the highest paying occupations that typically require a master’s degree for entry.
The bachelor’s-level occupations shown in table 3 paid more than six of the seven highest paying master’s-level occupations—and chief executives tops even the highest paying master’s-level occupation, nurse anesthetists. However, all but petroleum engineers typically require work experience in a related occupation for entry.
The occupation of financial managers is projected to have 56,900 openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026—the most of all the highest paying occupations shown in each education category.
The highest paying occupation in table 4 is air traffic controllers, which had a wage that was more than triple the median wage for all workers. In this occupation, workers typically need long-term on-the-job training to become competent in their job tasks.
The occupation of dental hygienists is projected to have 17,500 openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026, more than any of the other highest paying occupations that typically require an associate’s degree for entry.
Postsecondary nondegree award
Repair occupations are among the highest paying postsecondary nondegree award occupations shown in table 5. Aircraft mechanics and service technicians is the only occupation in the table that typically doesn’t have requirements for work experience or on-the-job training in addition to completing an academic program.
And the 10,900 openings projected each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026 for aircraft mechanics and service technicians is another way this occupation stands apart from the other highest paying occupations that typically require a postsecondary nondegree award for entry.
High school diploma or equivalent
Wages for the top-paying high school-level occupations were more than double the median for all occupations. Each of the occupations listed in table 6 typically requires either work experience in a related occupation or on-the-job training—or both experience and training.
The occupation of transportation, storage, and distribution managers is projected to have 9,700 openings annually, on average, from 2016 to 2026, the most of the highest paying occupations that typically require a high school diploma or equivalent for entry.
No formal educational credential
As table 7 shows, mine shuttle car operators had the highest median annual wage of the occupations that typically don’t require a formal educational credential for entry. On-the-job training is typically required for competency in all of the occupations shown.
The occupation of service unit operators in oil, gas, and mining is projected to have 6,400 openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026, the most of the highest paying occupations that typically don’t require a formal educational credential for entry.
Many thanks to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics for gathering the data and presenting it in an easy method for comparison. Article text and graphic source: Elka Torpey , US BLS