Physics is lovely. Cosmology is profound. Astronomy is a thrill. That’s all well and good, but for those of you who are thinking of pursuing it as a vocation, what you may really want to know is, “What’s in it for me?”.
The answer? Lots and lots of cash.
Courtesy of the always fascinating American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center’s latest report, if you major in physics and land a job in a technical (“STEM”=”Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math”) field, you’ll make nearly twice as much as you would have in a non-technical pursuit. Short term you’ll be screwed financially if you go on to grad school (see the “University” entry), but if you hold on for a higher degree, you’ll do even better:
Well that’s interesting, but what’s my point? Namely, that whatever your beliefs about why white straight men are overrepresented in science and engineering, you’d be hard pressed to deny the financial impact. When women and minorities are underrepresented in scientific and technical majors, they are necessarily overrepresented in the “Bachelor’s non-STEM” box in the upper left of the plot above. If more of them drop out while pursuing advanced degrees, they’ll never make it to the high Ph.D. salaries in the lower right. These differences can accumulate into more than a million dollars over a 20 year career, and make tangible differences in people’s quality of housing, childcare, and health insurance.
So, while the social costs matter, it’s the economic costs that worry me most.