We got an interesting question from an academic adviser at a Texas university: could we tell what the top 1 percent of earners majored in?
The writer, sly dog, was probably trying to make a point, because he wrote from a biology department, and it turns out that biology majors make up nearly 7 percent of college graduates who live in households in the top 1 percent.
According to the Census Bureau's 2010 American Community Survey, the majors that give you the best chance of reaching the 1 percent are pre-med, economics, biochemistry, zoology and, yes, biology, in that order.
Below is a chart showing the majors most likely to get into the 1 percent (excluding majors held by fewer than 50,000 people in 2010 census data). The third column shows the percentage of degree holders with that major who make it into the 1 percent. The fourth column shows the percent of the 1 percent (among college grads) that hold that major. In other words, more than one in 10 people with a pre-med degree make it into the 1 percent, and about 1 in 100 of the 1 percenters with degrees majored in pre-med.
If course, choice of major is not the only way to increase your chances of reaching the 1 percent, if that is your goal. There is also the sector you choose.
A separate analysis of census data on occupations showed that one in eight lawyers, for example, are in the 1 percent -- unless they work for a Wall Street firm, when their chances increase to one in three. Among chief executives, fewer than one in five rank among the 1 percent, but their chances increase if the company produces medical supplies (one in four) or drugs (two in five). Hollywood writers? One in nine are 1 percenters. Television or radio writers? One in 14. Newspaper writers and editors? One in 62.
Undergraduate Degree / Total / % Who Are 1 Percenters / Share of All 1 Percenters
|Health and Medical Preparatory Programs||142,345||11.8%||0.9%|
|Political Science and Government||1,427,224||6.2%||4.7%|
|Art History and Criticism||137,357||5.9%||0.4%|
|Area, Ethnic and Civilization Studies||184,906||5.2%||0.5%|
|Philosophy and Religious Studies||448,095||4.3%||1.0%|
|Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration||334,016||3.9%||0.7%|
|English Language and Literature||1,938,988||3.8%||3.8%|