Economic Insights
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

11-626-X No. 121

Estimating earnings by very detailed fields of study can be useful for students since they must make very specific program choices when applying for postsecondary admission. This study reports on the median earnings of master’s degree graduates five years after graduation (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), after adjusting for age, institution, and year of graduation. It covers 77 fields for men and 95 fields for women. The results, which are based on postsecondary administrative and taxation data, indicate that the highest earners are generally business graduates from various specialties, as well as several types of health graduates. Notably, engineering graduates experienced varying degrees of success in the labour market, depending on their specialty. While graduates from several broad field of study groupings also experience mixed success (again, depending on specialty), arts and humanities graduates generally earned far less than most other graduates. These results highlight the importance of reporting earnings by very detailed fields of study when possible.

Introduction

Most studies that examine earnings by field of study report results for only a small number of broad academic programs, often due to data limitations (Frank and Walters 2012; Ostrovsky and Frenette 2014; Frank, Frenette, and Morissette 2015; Zhao et al. 2017; Frenette 2019) or perhaps due to ease of presentation (Galarneau et al. 2017; Finnie et al. 2019).Note  Providing more detailed evidence is important since the expected earnings associated with a field of study is an important factor in the decision-making process of students (Gunderson and Krashinsky, 2009). The purpose of this study is to provide earnings estimates of graduates of specific disciplines for a very wide range of master's degree graduates.Note 

The approach is the same as in Frenette and Handler (2020a), and is described in more detail in that study. Briefly, this study reports on the median paid earnings (expressed in 2017 constant dollars from Table 18-10-005-01) from the T1 Family File (T1FF) five years after graduation from a master's degree program obtained between the years 2010 and 2012 (identified from the Postsecondary Student Information System, or PSIS). Earnings are adjusted for age, institution, and graduation year. Individuals who returned to postsecondary studies following graduation, who reported self-employment income five years after graduation (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), or who graduated from a discipline with fewer than 50 observations in the final sample are excluded.Note  Importantly, individuals with zero earnings are included, which means that the results will reflect in part differences in employment between graduates. In total, results are available for 77 (95) fields for men (women), which are identified through the four-digit 2011 Classification of Instructional Program (CIP).Note  Note 

Business graduates are highest earners among master's degree holders

Five years after graduation, individuals with various business specialties out-earned all other master's degree graduates, after accounting for differences in age, institution, and graduation year. For men, the three top disciplines registering the highest median earnings included Finance and financial management services ($110,518), Business administration, management and operations ($108,382), and Accounting and related services ($102,718)—see Chart 1. Management sciences and quantitative methods graduates also landed in the top 10, with median earnings of $91,161 (9th place).

Women who obtained a master's degree in a business-related discipline also outperformed their counterparts from other disciplines in the labour market (Chart 2). Specifically, among female graduates, those with Taxation degrees out-earned all others with $96,416 in median earnings, followed closely by Finance and financial management services graduates with $92,956. Women who specialized in Accounting and related services ($89,605) or Business administration, management and operations ($89,202) also found themselves in the top 5 (4th and 5th place, respectively).

Several other male and female business-related graduates registered median earnings that were well above the average among all master's degree graduates.

Certain health graduates also performed well in the labour market. For men, Health and medical administrative services and Registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research and clinical nursing graduates came in 4th and 5th place, respectively. For women, those who studied Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration (3rd), Registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research and clinical nursing (6th), or Health and medical administrative services (9th) also registered relatively high median earnings.

Male Computer science and Computer/information technology administration and management graduates were in 7th and 10th place, respectively. There were not enough women in these fields to include in the study.

Chart 1 Median earnings of male master's degree graduates by field of study (adjusted for age, institution, and graduation year)

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 1. The information is grouped by Field of study (appearing as row headers), Median, calculated using 2017 constant dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Field of study Median
2017 constant dollars
Finance and financial management services* 110,518
Business administration, management and operations* 108,382
Accounting and related services* 102,718
Health and medical administrative services* 98,559
Registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research and clinical nursing* 97,110
Educational administration and supervision* 95,796
Computer/information technology administration and management* 95,678
Multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary studies, other* 95,386
Management sciences and quantitative methods 91,161
Computer science 89,821
Entrepreneurial and small business operations 89,637
Curriculum and instruction 89,064
Computer and information sciences and support services, general 88,821
Education, general 88,568
Engineering, other 87,895
Geological and Earth sciences/geosciences 87,737
Marketing 86,754
Human resources management and services 86,571
Computer engineering 86,260
Systems engineering 86,181
Social and philosophical foundations of education 86,174
Teacher education and professional development, specific levels and methods 85,891
Educational/instructional media design 85,651
Teacher education and professional development, specific subject areas 85,514
Materials engineering 85,129
Electrical, electronics and communications engineering 84,915
All fields of study 84,907
Educational assessment, evaluation and research 84,580
Public health 84,221
Education, other 84,202
Aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical/space engineering 83,995
Public administration 83,993
Engineering-related fields 83,964
Engineering, general 83,593
Civil engineering 82,620
Computer systems networking and telecommunications 82,555
Construction engineering 82,046
Chemical engineering 81,355
Mechanical engineering 80,860
Student counselling and personnel services 80,757
Bioengineering and biomedical engineering 79,904
International relations and national security studies 79,853
Public policy analysis 79,802
Economics 79,359
Industrial engineering 79,245
Environmental/environmental health engineering 76,926
Communication and media studies 76,842
International business/trade/commerce 76,765
International/global studies 76,687
Statistics 76,536
Medical scientist 75,598
Rehabilitation and therapeutic professions* 75,533
Clinical, counselling and applied psychology 75,460
Mathematics 75,248
Natural resources conservation and research* 74,417
City/urban, community and regional planning* 74,264
Physics* 73,484
Social work* 73,287
Political science and government* 73,059
Chemistry* 72,155
Natural resources management and policy* 71,435
Ecology, evolution, systematics and population biology* 70,957
Geography and cartography* 70,833
Health and physical education/fitness* 70,813
Biochemistry/biophysics and molecular biology* 70,600
Library science and administration* 66,782
Sociology* 65,083
Biology, general* 63,979
History* 62,418
Architecture and related services, other* 61,465
Theological and ministerial studies* 59,755
Journalism* 59,471
Information science/studies* 58,842
Philosophy, logic and ethics* 57,832
English language and literature, general* 55,730
Library and archives assisting* 51,377
Music* 41,477
Fine arts and art studies* 39,583

Chart 2 Median earnings of female master's degree graduates by field of study (adjusted for age, institution, and graduation year)

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 2. The information is grouped by Field of study (appearing as row headers), Median, calculated using 2017 constant dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Field of study Median
2017 constant dollars
Taxation* 96,416
Finance and financial management services* 92,956
Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration* 89,722
Accounting and related services* 89,605
Business administration, management and operations* 89,202
Registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research and clinical nursing* 87,536
Engineering, other* 86,032
Educational administration and supervision* 85,497
Health and medical administrative services* 84,100
Industrial engineering* 83,760
Teaching assistants/aides* 81,493
Human resources management and services* 80,884
Chemical engineering* 80,762
Marketing* 80,198
Public administration* 79,829
Educational assessment, evaluation and research* 78,801
Educational/instructional media design* 78,287
Curriculum and instruction* 78,246
Computer science* 77,039
Civil engineering* 76,845
International relations and national security studies* 76,401
Management sciences and quantitative methods 76,054
Social and philosophical foundations of education 74,208
Education, other 74,181
Education, general 73,634
Public policy analysis 73,305
Special education and teaching 73,126
Teacher education and professional development, specific subject areas 73,040
Public health 72,661
Geological and Earth sciences/geosciences 72,273
Biotechnology 72,172
Multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary studies, other 71,156
Communication disorders sciences and services 70,444
All fields of study 69,510
International business/trade/commerce 69,461
Rehabilitation and therapeutic professions 69,232
Criminology 69,151
Mathematics 69,104
Journalism 69,069
Nutrition sciences 68,818
Teacher education and professional development, specific levels and methods 68,815
Communication and media studies 68,664
Electrical, electronics and communications engineering 68,655
Statistics 68,407
City/urban, community and regional planning 67,774
Political science and government 67,018
Economics 66,198
Computer engineering 65,752
Clinical, counselling and applied psychology 65,635
Public relations, advertising and applied communication 65,633
Mechanical engineering 65,318
Social work* 65,093
Bioengineering and biomedical engineering 64,839
Student counselling and personnel services 64,657
Environmental/environmental health engineering 64,545
Natural resources conservation and research* 63,674
Natural resources management and policy 62,778
Ethnic, cultural minority, gender, and group studies 62,435
Library science and administration* 61,725
Mental and social health services and allied professions 61,666
Information science/studies* 61,467
Medical scientist* 61,332
Psychology, general* 60,971
Human services, general 60,581
Ecology, evolution, systematics and population biology 60,514
Health and physical education/fitness* 60,493
Geography and cartography* 60,419
Anthropology* 60,201
Area, ethnic, cultural, gender, and group studies, other 59,766
Chemistry* 59,509
Architecture and related services, other* 59,072
Physiology, pathology and related sciences* 57,394
Sociology* 57,170
Biology, general* 57,007
Human development, family studies and related services* 56,516
Foods, nutrition and related services* 56,025
Landscape architecture* 55,908
Cell/cellular biology and anatomical sciences* 55,810
Biochemistry/biophysics and molecular biology* 55,267
Teaching English or French as a second or foreign language* 55,210
Microbiological sciences and immunology* 54,428
Area studies* 53,976
Food science and technology* 53,692
International/global studies* 53,649
Museology/museum studies* 53,648
Design and applied arts* 53,449
French literature* 53,401
Library and archives assisting* 52,756
Peace studies and conflict resolution* 52,067
Linguistic, comparative and related language studies and services* 51,278
Film/video and photographic arts* 49,511
History* 48,849
English language and literature, general* 47,992
Fine arts and art studies* 39,378
Music* 28,266
Theological and ministerial studies* 25,282

Educational administration and supervision graduates were also ranked in the top ten for men (6th) and women (8th). This field is distinct from teacher training, and focuses on training students to administer schools or other educational organizations. It may include, for example, individuals interested in becoming a school principal. Several other male and female education-related graduates registered median earnings above the average among all master's degree graduates.

Finally, male graduates of Multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary studies (other) landed in 8th place among all master's degree graduates with respect to median earnings. These programs combine two or more disciplines that are not specified.

Engineering graduates from many specialties registered below average earnings

It has been well documented that engineering graduates generally outperform most other graduates in the labour market. However, this is generally not the case among graduates of master's degree programs in engineering.

Indeed, there were no engineering graduates in the top 10 for men, and only two types of engineering graduates in the top 10 for women [Engineering (other) in 7th place and Industrial engineering in 10th place]. This is in contrast to bachelor's degree graduates, where 6 of the top 10 spots were occupied by engineering graduates for men, and 7 of the top ten for women (Frenette and Handler 2020a).

Moreover, male graduates from 9 of the 14 engineering disciplines registered median earnings below the median among all master's degree graduates. For women, 5 of the 9 engineering disciplines landed below the median among all master's degree graduates.

These results are in line with Wall et al. (2018), who estimated no statistically significant premium associated with a master's degree in engineering compared to a bachelor's degree in engineering. However, these results mask the important differences highlighted in Chart 1 and Chart 2, which suggest that engineering graduates at the master's degree level experienced varying degrees of success in the labour market, depending on their specialty.

Art and humanities graduates generally earned less than most other graduates

The high degree of variable results within the broad field of engineering also applies to many other disciplines, including sciences, mathematics and computer science, health, and social sciences. However, graduates of arts and humanities programs generally earn far less than most other graduates.

Specifically, 7 of the bottom 10 fields among male master's degree graduates are associated with arts or humanities [Fine arts and art studies, Music, English language and literature (general), Philosophy, logic, and ethics, Journalism, Theological and ministerial studies, and History]. Their median earnings five years after graduation ranged from about $40,000 to about $62,000.

For women, 8 of the bottom 10 fields included program associated with the arts or humanities (Theological and ministerial studies, Music, Fine arts and art studies, English language and literature (general), History, Film/video and photographic arts, Linguistic, comparative and related language studies and services, and French literature). Median earnings ranged from about $25,000 to about $53,000 for these graduates, five years after graduation.

One notable exception is graduates of Communication and media studies. The median earnings of men who studied in this discipline was $76,842, only about $8,000 below the median for all male master's degree graduates. Their female counterparts registered $68,664 in median earnings—less than $1,000 below the median for all female master's degree graduates. Female Journalism graduates also came in just below the median for all graduates, at $69,069.

Conclusion

This study reports on the median earnings of master's degree graduates five years after graduation (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), after adjusting for age, institution, and year of graduation. Results are shown for 77 fields for men and for 95 fields for women. Students may benefit from this information since they must apply to specific programs, as opposed to broader categories that are more often reported in studies.

The results, which are based on postsecondary administrative and taxation data, indicate that the highest earners are generally business graduates from various specialties, as well as several types of health graduates. Notably, engineering graduates experienced varying degrees of success in the labour market, depending on their specialty. While graduates from several broad field of study groupings also experience mixed success (again, depending on specialty), arts and humanities graduates generally earned far less than most other graduates.

This article highlights the importance of presenting results at detailed levels whenever possible. At the same time, the results reflect economic conditions that graduates faced during the 2010s. Many sectors naturally go through peaks and troughs, and this may affect the demand for graduates from different academic programs. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to longer-term shifts in demand due to possible re-organization of work (e.g. teleworking or automation) or changes in demand in sectors like health care or clean energy.

References

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Frank, K., and D. Walters. 2012. “Exploring the Alignment between Post-secondary Education Programs and Earnings: An Examination of 2005 Ontario Graduates.” Canadian Journal of Higher Education 42 (3): 93–115.

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Zhao, J., S. J. Ferguson, H. Dryburgh, C. Rodriguez, and R. Subedi. 2017. Is Field of Study a Factor in the Earnings of Young Bachelor’s Degree Holders? Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-200-X2016023. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.


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