The study by Indiana State's College of Arts and Sciences shows that while arts majors earn less than computer or science majors for their first job, that's not necessarily true for their entire career.
By age 40, the earnings of people who majored in fields like social science or history have caught up.
This happens because most of the technical skills that are in high demand today become obsolete when technology progresses.
Older workers must learn these new skills on the fly, while younger workers may have learned them in school. Skill obsolescence and increased competition from younger graduates work together to lower the earnings advantage for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree holders as they age.
While arts majors start slow, they gradually catch up to their peers in STEM fields because their education fosters valuable "soft skills" like problem-solving, critical thinking and adaptability. Such skills are hard to quantify, and they don't create clean pathways to high-paying first jobs. But they have long-run value in a wide variety of careers.
"Between the ages of 25 and 40, the share of STEM majors working in STEM jobs falls from 65 percent to 48 percent. Many of them shift into managerial positions, which pay well but do not always require specialised skills."
High-paying jobs in management, business and law raise the average salary of all social science/history majors.