Jobs and College Majors  

A blog about business and economics.
May 20 2013 3:29 PM

How Would the Government Know Whether Your Job Relates to Your College Major?  

6a01348793456c970c017d42d83cf8970c-450wi

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has come up with an innovative empirical method to lead to the theoretically predicted conclusion that big cities do a better job of matching workers to appropriate jobs, since they have deeper and more specialized labor markets. But I suspect the study will be best-known for the finding Brad Plumer highlights, namely that only 27 percent of college graduates have a job related to their college major.

But is that really true?

According to the paper, they're measuring relatedness by using the National Center for Education Statistics' Classification of Instructional Programs "occupational crosswalk" function. So I thought I would look up my own major, philosophy, and see what the federal government has to say about my career choices. They think that the only job I'm suited for is as a post-secondary teacher, teaching philosophy or religion classes at a college. In other words, I am one of the 73 percent.

Advertisement

But I would dispute the claim that my job has nothing to do with my college degree. My view is that undergraduate philosophy majors get a crash course in persuasive writing and logical argumentation. Any kind of liberal arts degree where you need to read a lot of texts and then learn to write persuasively based on said texts is a decent preparation for working in journalism. But philosophy is a particularly good one to study, because for better or for worse, journalists are typically asked to be generalists. As a philosophy major you read and discuss people who are not only great thinkers but people who managed to make meaningful intellectual contributions to the world without obtaining tons of new empirical information. Particularly in my little subfield of Web-based punditry, that sort of thing is crucial. You of course don't learn shoe-leather reporting as a philosophy major, and that's an important part of the journalism ecosystem. But large swathes of journalism have relatively little to do with shoe-leather reporting, and philosophy is a damn fine thing to major in if you want the skills you need to succeed in those swathes.

My larger point here is that it's really important to pay attention to data quality. If existing labor markets do a poor job of matching college graduates to things the NCES CIP "occupational crosswalk" function says are major-appropriate jobs, is that a fact about the labor market or a fact about the statistical series?

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.