According to the Washington Examiner, republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has said that doing a psychology major will mean “you’re going to be working a Chick-fil-A” and has encouraged students to choose college degrees with better employment prospects.
If you’re not American, Chik-fil-A turns out be a fast food restaurant, presumably of dubious quality.
“The number one degree program for students in this country … is psychology,” Bush said. “I don’t think we should dictate majors. But I just don’t think people are getting jobs as psych majors.
Firstly, he’s wrong about psychology being the most popular degree in the US. The official statistics shows it’s actually business related subjects that are the most studied, with psychology coming in at fifth.
He’s also wrong about the employment prospects of psych majors. I initially mused on Twitter as to why US psych majors have such poor employment prospects when, in the UK, psychology graduates are typically the most likely to be employed.
But I was wrong about US job prospects for psych majors, because I was misled by lots of US media articles suggesting exactly this.
There is actually decent research on this, and it says something quite different. Georgetown University’s Centre on Education and the Workforce published reports in 2010 and 2013, called ‘Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings’ where they looked at exactly this issue.
They found on both occasions that doing a psych major gives you employment prospects that are about mid-table in comparison to other degrees.
Below is the graph from the 2013 report. Click for a bigger version.
Essentially psychology is slightly below average in terms of employability. Tenth out of sixteen but still a college major where more than 9 out of 10 (91.2%) find jobs as recent graduates.
If you look at median income, the picture is much the same: somewhat below average but clearly not in the Chik-fil-A range.
What’s not factored into these reports, however, is gender difference. According to the statistics, almost 80% of psychology degrees in the US are earned by women.
Women earn less than men on average, are more likely to take voluntary career breaks, are more likely to be suspend work to have children, and so on. So it’s worth remembering that these figures don’t control for gender effects.
So when Bush says “I just don’t think people are getting jobs as psych majors” it seems he misthought.
Specifically, it looks like his thinking was biased by the availability heuristic which, if you know about it, can help you avoid embarrassing errors when making factual claims.
I’ll leave that irony for Jeb Bush to ponder, along with Allie Brandenburger, Kaitlin Zurdowsky and Josh Venable – three psychology majors he employed as senior members of his campaign team.