STEMming the flow – which subjects fared best post-crash

I’ve blogged before on the learning education outcomes (LEO) data showing graduate salaries by subject. I’ve been sat on the following analysis for a few months but its mildly interesting and worth sharing.

I’ve looked at which subjects’ grads have had their pay squeezed most. I used the 2003/04 and the 2010/11 graduating cohorts. The latter is the latest cohort for which we have three years after graduation earnings data. The two cohorts also span the financial crash and show starkly the squeeze in pay.

When you rank the squeeze, some interesting patterns occur. The subjects that have been squeezed least (though still squeezed) are Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects.

Table 1: % change in median earnings 3 years after graduating between the 03/04 cohort and 10/11 cohort

This sort of suggests that STEM is a safe bet. It’s recession proof. There are well documented skills shortages in STEM as the Gov’s industrial strategy green paper points out:

‘We have particular skills shortages in sectors that depend on STEM subjects, where we need more of these graduates to compete successfully in a global economy’.

STEM subjects also confer earnings premiums (premia if you’re inclined to pluralise in the Latin fashion).

What of other subjects?

The biggest squeeze was for education (-22.1%). As with subjects like medicine and dentistry (-17.5%) occupations in these fields were subject to public sector pay restraint under austerity policies which explains why pay fell further relative to other occupations over this period. The second biggest fall after education was for architecture, building and planning. Construction dried up post-crash so naturally there was less demand for these skills.

I’m wary at this point of an obligation to close the narrative arc by way of a conclusion. I’ve not much to say. It’s interesting. It adds to the argument that STEM is a safe choice, but I hear stories of other subjects becoming marginalised by schools. As ever, not all value can be measured in pounds. This analysis tells us something about the past few years but who knows how politics and economics will interplay to favour or discourage earnings of one subject over another in the future.

The table below shows the median wages after 1 year for all cohorts in the dataset (in Oct 2016 prices).

Table 2: median earnings for by subject – average of all cohorts in Oct 2016 prices



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