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STEM and LEM – which pays the most?

April 15th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

The de facto end of free education in the UK, and in particuar the imposition of coniderable fees for univeristy courses, which is likely to be extended to vocational programmes, is going to have widespread implications for peoples’ choices of careers.

Inthe next few weeks we will be exploring some of those implications on this blog.

One issue is that people are beginning to exmaine the ‘value’ of a degree in terms fo enhnaced lifetime earnings. And the rseulkts may not be as people have assumed. Governements and goevrnmental bodies have long espoused the importance of the so called STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – but figures suggest it may not be these subjects which enjoy the best pay premium.

According to the Guardian:

Male graduates in law, economics and management (LEM), for example, enjoyed faster growth in wages early in their career lifecycle compared to other majors, including Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths). Stem graduates, or those with combined degrees, eventually catch up with those who did LEM but not till much later in the lifecycle. For those opting for arts and other social science degrees, the lifetime returns are markedly lower – especially for men. The subject you study, then, makes a big difference to the investment returns, although, so far, only one institution has suggested subject specific pricing, so the costs are broadly the same across subjects. (Note that our research shows that early-career wage levels are not a good predictor of lifetime earnings – but, be warned, the government’s guidance for students on which subjects and institutions to choose will present data on early earnings.)

Among women, the picture is different. LEM graduates saw the highest and fastest rate of return. But women who did a degree – irrespective of which subject – enjoyed substantially higher lifetime earnings than those who didn’t. This can be read as an indication of the kind of discrimination that female non-graduates still face in the labour market. Moreover, the returns were broadly similar across subjects.

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