Why the S in STEM Is Overrated

Alexander Raths/

Do we really need more science grads?

It’s an easy question to answer for politicians, university officials, conference speakers, and just about anybody whose job is to talk about American competitiveness for money. It’s rote that we need more STEM students – more science, technology, engineering and math grads – sprinting off American campuses into the labor force. But according to the data, employers don’t like paying science grads quite as much as we like talking about them.

Is STEM one letter too long?

Wage data in several states show that employers are paying more -- often far more -- for techies (i.e.: computer science majors), engineers, and math grads. But no evidence suggests that biology majors, the most popular science field of study, earn a wage premium. Chemistry graduates earn somewhat more than biology grads, but still don’t command the wages that are quite TEM-quality.

This conclusion is based on detailed information from Texas, Colorado and Virginia. All three states have linked data about graduate programs with wage data from their unemployment insurance systems through College Measures. Very important to note upfront is that these wages are early career earnings. Many science students go on to medical school or continue with doctoral studies. Biology majors that go on to become, for example, anesthesiologists will be very rich, indeed. But the number of advanced degrees in these fields is dwarfed by the flood of science bachelor's (and associate's and master's degrees).

The data from these states show that while students in technology, engineering and math earn more, on average, than other students, graduates in the “S” fields in STEM do not. Wages are a key signal of demand for workers. If science majors are in such high demand, it is odd that they are so poorly rewarded for their skills.

Read more at The Atlantic

(Image via Alexander Raths/

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