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Study: Earnings of degree graduates by detailed fields of study prior to COVID-19

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Released: 2020-08-24

The COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in record youth unemployment rates, which could adversely affect postsecondary graduates for years to come. Although it is too early to know which graduates will be worst hit, students entering college or university and having to select a program might benefit from knowing how well graduates from specific academic disciplines fared in the labour market prior to the pandemic.

Three new studies shed light on this important issue. They provide a snapshot of the labour market success of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral graduates from detailed programs. Individuals graduated between 2010 and 2012, and their median annual earnings are reported five years after graduation (after adjusting for differences in age, institution, and year of graduation). Individuals with no earnings are included in the studies. In total, these gender-based studies include results for men in 118 bachelor's degree programs and women in 123 programs; men in 77 master's degree programs and women in 95 programs; and men in 29 doctoral degree programs and women in 22 programs.

The studies reveal many interesting findings. For example, they show that most top-earners among bachelor's degree graduates came from various engineering specialties: 6 of the top 10 disciplines among men, and 7 of the top 10 disciplines among women were in engineering.

Mining and mineral engineering graduates ranked first among men with $111,533 in median earnings five years after graduation, and second among women with $89,680. Their counterparts who graduated from chemical engineering also ranked high, landing 5th among male graduates ($89,637) and 3rd among female graduates ($82,193).

Graduates from other disciplines also ranked high among bachelor's degree programs.

For example, pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration graduates registered the second highest median earnings among men with $106,055, and the highest median earnings among women with $94,177. Male graduates of computer/information technology administration and management and of mathematics and computer science, as well as female graduates of registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research and clinical nursing and of management sciences and quantitative methods also landed in the top 10.

In general, bachelor's degree graduates near the top of the list earned multiple times more than those at the bottom: two to three times more for men, and two to five times more for women.

For both men and women, 8 of the bottom 10 disciplines associated with the lowest median earnings were in arts or humanities. The lowest-paying field among male graduates was drama/theatre arts and stagecraft ($35,935), while the lowest-paying field among female graduates was bilingual, multilingual and multicultural education ($19,892). Music graduates earned the third least for men ($38,462) and second least for women ($22,174).

At the master's degree level, most top-earning graduates came from business programs. Men who graduated from finance and financial management services ($110,518), business administration, management and operations ($108,382), and accounting and related services ($102,718) registered the three highest median earnings five years after graduation. Male graduates from management sciences and quantitative methods also landed in the top 10. Women with taxation degrees out-earned all other female graduates, with $96,416 in median earnings. They were followed closely by finance and financial management services graduates, whose median earnings amounted to $92,956. Women who specialized in accounting and related services or in business administration, management and operations also found themselves in the top 5.

In contrast to their counterparts with a bachelor's degree, individuals with a master's degree in engineering specialties often registered median earnings that were below the overall median for all master's degree graduates. Moreover, there were no engineering graduates in the top 10 disciplines for men, and two types of engineering graduates in the top 10 for women. As was the case with bachelor's degree graduates, most fields associated with the lowest pay were in arts or humanities.

Doctoral graduates who received the highest pay graduated from various program areas such as business, health, engineering, social sciences, and education. Their counterparts who earned the least generally graduated from the sciences, and more specifically, those related to biological sciences.

It should be emphasized that the rankings documented in these three studies might change in the coming years, as the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to alter the Canadian wage structure in ways that are yet to be determined.


The studies Which Bachelor's Degree Programs Were Associated with the Highest Pay Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic? A Focus on Very Detailed Fields of Study, Which Master's Degree Programs Were Associated with the Highest Pay Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic? A Focus on Very Detailed Fields of Study, and Which Doctoral Degree Programs Were Associated with the Highest Pay Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic? A Focus on Very Detailed Fields of Study, part of the Economic Insights Series (Catalogue number11-626-X), are now available.

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To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Marc Frenette, 613-864-0762 (, Social Analysis and Modelling Division.

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