A Good Education Is Worth Millions


July 18, 2002

Washington - What is the difference between a high school diploma and a medical degree? About $3.2 million, says the Census Bureau.

Someone whose education does not go beyond high school and who works full time can expect to earn about $1.2 million between ages 25 and 64 - a typical life's work, according to demographers. College graduates will earn nearly a million more in their lifetime: $2.1 million.

Earning advanced degrees translate into much higher lifetime earnings: an estimated $4.4 million for doctors, lawyers and others with professional degrees and $2.5 million for those with a master's degree.

The findings come from an agency survey being released today that charts the influence of education on lifetime earnings.

Not all students look at college as an investment, "but I'm sure parents do," said Jacqueline King, policy analyst with the American Council Education, a higher education advocacy group.

"The challenge is to convince those high school students on the margins is that it is really worth their time to go to college."

Kevin Malacek, a graduate student in American politics at American University in Washington, acknowledged the time commitment is significant.

"But most people do find it worth it. They go to every single class, and they are trying to get the most out of their own dollar," he said.

The survey was conducted between March 1998 and March 2000. All estimates are based on 1999 salaries and probably will increase as salaries rise over time, Census Bureau analyst Jennifer Day said.

The estimates do not account for inflation or for differences in the earnings potential of the various fields of study and degree majors. For instance, people with computer science degrees tend to earn more than those with social work degrees.

Disparities remained between men and women, especially among older workers with higher degrees. Men with professional degrees may expect to earn almost $2 million more than women with the same level of education.

More men hold better-paying executive positions in corporations, hospitals and law firms, Day said. The difference also takes into account that more women than men leave work to care for a child and that women often do not return to their job full-time.

The survey was conducted separately from the 2000 census. The last time the bureau released such figures was 1992, though the estimates are not directly comparable.

Copyright 2002, Newsday, Inc.