Personally, I'm In It For the Groupies

DarwinCatholic has posted an amusing little follow-up to my piece on the NYTimes article about the value of a philosophy major in the marketplace. Included in Darwin's essay is a bar-graph from a Wall Street Journal article that compares college-graduate starting salaries by major. At the bottom: philosophy.

One feature of the chart that intrigued me was the fact that, whereas the average first-job salary for a philosophy major was listed as roughly 28k, the average salary for the history major is given as 34k. The history major. If someone had asked me to name a college major even more useless, in a jobby sorty of way, than philosophy, I'm not sure what else I could have come up with other than history. I think two things tell against the poor philosophy major in this situation. One is the fact that, while history is often taught in the schools, philosophy rarely is and, contrary to what is usually claimed by teachers' unions, starting salaries for public school teachers are actually quite good. So probably some of that 34k is due to the fact that a lot of history majors can get jobs as teachers, while very few philosophy majors can, unless they decide to get certified teaching something other than philosophy, something much easier, say, such as history. (I'll pass over in silence the question of whether a history major could get himself certified to teach philosophy.) The other factor that comes to mind is the possibility that a lot of philosophy majors tend to have interests in public service sorts of jobs, and they may very well take very low paying positions in charitable operations that don't pay much to anybody, let alone the philosophers. History majors, by contrast, are well known mercenaries who will do anything for a buck.

In the final analysis, of course, the philosopher isn't supposed to do philosophy for money anyway, so if the average salary of philosophers had been any higher, it would have served as proof that we're all a bunch of hypocrites. As it is, it simply goes to show you all how noble and professional the real philosophers are.

But I'm not trying to be snooty when I say that: As for me, I can't wait until I'm making 28k! But then, I wasn't a philosophy major. I majored in...history (and classics).


Anonymous said…
Well, I majored in philosophy, and my first job was as a seminarian. In a religious congregation. With a vow of poverty. So I started out behind the curve. Reminds me of the Monty Python, "We used to DREAM of livin' in a corridor, would have been a palace to us."

If you really want to spin it, you could say that Providence designed it that way so that those who have the moral fortitude to bear poverty could do so, practiced as they are in Ethics and a major that goes well beyond mere studies.

I'm now working as a commercial property analyst, making about $60,000 but very very happy with my choices and my examined life.
Anonymous said…
Somehow I think Dr. Tighe might be in it for the groupies too...

-Chris Molter
Darwin said…
Maybe this is a very old tend... Given the amount of time Socrates spent sitting around in the agora talking instead of cutting stone, I imagine he wasn't exactly among the top earning stone cutters.

But then, what other Athenian stone cutters do we know and care about these days?
These days, at least his family would get a little bit of money for A Sip of Hemlock, an artsy film, or The Gadfly, a political intrigue thriller, or Aporia Again, the musical.
Matthew said…
Well, I'd also add that an awful lot of philosophy majors go on to graduate school, typically law school. That means very low to non-existent income for the three years immediately following college.

Tangentially, it is staggering just how many stand up comedians were philosophy majors. Steve Martin is the most famous, but there are a goodly number of others.

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