College Majors Don’t Have Anything to Do with Unemployment

Are too many people choosing liberal arts majors? Will it prevent them from getting jobs?

This is a popular line of reasoning among education critics, particularly Republican governors. North Carolina’s Pat McCrory recently indicated that he didn’t think it was a good idea for state college to offer liberal arts degrees: “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job. What are we teaching these courses for if they’re not going to help get a job?”

But this theory—people aren’t getting jobs because they’re choosing the wrong majors—is basically bullshit.

Matthew O’Brien over at The Atlantic has provided this handy graphic, which pretty effectively shows what’s going on with college majors and graduate employment.

EmploymentEconomy

The red line represents the unemployment rate of college graduates. The blue line represents “private non-residential fixed investment” (basically the state of the economy). Look at that, the lines follow pretty a pretty similar pattern.

There’s no indication that between 1999 and 2012 there was any aggregate change in college majors.

Indeed, aside from certain specific jobs (in, say, engineering or nursing) employers don’t really care much about job applicants’ college majors at all. Unemployed doesn’t have anything to do with what students study in college; it has everything to do with the economy.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer