Contrary to popular advice—from books, films, and your worried mother alike—the liberal arts are quite a secure choice when it comes to beginning a successful career.
That is more so the case than ever these days as the global economy trends toward demanding specific, but ever-changing, skill sets. Last month, a report from LinkedIn and the World Economic Forum found that the number of students majoring in broad subjects, like history and economics, has been declining, in contrast to majors like media and information technology getting more popular. But per the researchers of the report, specialized degrees are less flexible and useful than the broader ones.
It’s better to amass knowledge in a field as broad as possible, the researchers concluded, than to give one’s entire attention to a niche field that precariously may not exist in a few years.
That same advice is also being being given to students by many academics—such as Douglas Webber, an associate economics professor at Temple University who studies post-graduate earnings by academic field. “I would argue against majoring in accounting, or anything that a computer can be programmed to do,” Webber told the New York Times (paywall) last week.
In Webber’s analysis of lifetime earnings by major, subjects in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM) fields rank predictably high. But many subjects commonly perceived as low-paying—English, for example, or psychology—actually yield more over graduates’ lifetimes than ones that are instantly recognizable as lucrative.
Such findings support previous claims that the humanities offer better return on investment than technical studies. And for students who aren’t sure of the directions of their careers yet, they are essentially the safest bet.