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Psychology Degrees Associated With Below Average Income Compared To Other College Degrees

College GraduatesA new crop of college graduates have just landed on the job market. Right now they’re probably just hoping to get any job, if at all. However, for psychology majors, the salary outlook in both the short and long term is particularly poor, according to a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

It is generally known that psychology majors do not make a ton of money when they are starting out; they are not like engineering students, many of whom go straight into a job that pays well for their technical skills. But some people have suggested that a psychology major may pay off later in the career as the critical thinking skills and literacy of the liberal arts education become more valuable. D.W. Rajecki of Indiana University was skeptical. “Psychology educators say liberal arts skills should be valuable in the workplace. Employers say they value liberal arts skills in employees,” he says. “I say, ‘show me the money.'” So, with Victor M.H. Borden, he set out to examine several data sets on earnings for people in different fields.

As expected, they found that psychology majors’ median starting salary of $35,300 is well below the average for college graduates. But they found that this is also true at midcareer, when psychology majors are still paid below the average. They fare particularly poorly when compared to graduates in other science fields, engineering, and health.

“Face it, wages are tied to specific occupations, and real-world data show that psychology alumni just don’t work in areas that pay top dollar,” says Rajecki. Advanced degrees don’t help, either. “Even psychology professors obtain appointments at the lower end of that salary scale.”

Rajecki does not think this means 18-year-olds should stop choosing psychology as a major. “Psychology is a remarkable academic discipline that seems to get more interesting every passing year. Why should any student avoid the field?” he says. And, of course, money is not the only thing that matters. But when academic counselors are giving students advice, they should make it clear that psychology is not necessarily the road to riches.

Material adapted from Association for Psychological Science.

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3 Responses to Psychology Degrees Associated With Below Average Income Compared To Other College Degrees

  1. avatar
    Christopher Fisher, PhD June 9, 2011 at 7:39 AM #

    I think that opportunities for excellent income are possible with advanced psychology degrees (particularly, PhD). Psychologists need to be aware that family physicians who prescribe anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication are the front-line treatments for the most common psychological disorders. I think the key to professional and financial success is to develop unique skills that will make you distinct from other mental healthcare professionals. This true of most professions though, not just psychology.

    The second step to success if marketing yourself to the general public and other healthcare professionals. They must have a way to find out about your unique skills – word of mouth is often not enough. This is an area that psychologists may struggle or be uncomfortable with – after all, business marketing is often not a topic covered in PhD programs and some folks may feel uncomfortable marketing themselves. The key is tasteful marketing that is not forceful or cheesy.

    In short, the key to financial success is that patients and other referring healthcare professionals must identify you with a unique skill set that benefit patients with difficult to treat ailments.

    • avatar
      marion barnett June 11, 2011 at 1:18 PM #

      I agree with your assessment. As an MFT with a past career and training in business, I understood that referring healthcare professionals would be crucial to my success in private practice. When I began my practice 3 years ago I set out to develop and nurture those relationships. Because of my expertise and comfort in working with individuals with co-occurring medical issues, having a good grasp of pharmacology as well as being willing to take insurance, my practice continues to grow.

  2. avatar
    Christopher Fisher, PhD June 9, 2011 at 7:40 AM #

    I’m sure our readers would be interested to hear more from other healthcare professionals with a degree in psychology or related mental health field about their “keys to financial success.”

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