back to article Psychology graduates remain poor for life, study shows

A study in America has found that taking a degree in Psychology condemns you to a lifetime of being lower paid than those who study proper sciences, and lower paid than the average among university graduates. "Psychology educators say liberal arts skills should be valuable in the workplace. Employers say they value liberal …


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  1. Thomas 4

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    And when these graduates all feel depressed and develop self-esteem issues, they can go and see one of their colleagues!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      except that

      they won't be able to afford the fees...

  2. Amonynous

    File that one under No S**t Sherlock

    "Face it, wages are tied to specific occupations, and real-world data show that psychology alumni just don't work in areas that pay top dollar,"

    It's pretty clear the study was conducted by psychologists, since they missed the obvious chain of cause and effect here:

    Not smart enough to do a hard discipline -> Study psychology -> Still behind the curve intellecutally -> Get paid less for life.

    Or as my old dad says, "You can't educate lard".

  3. Anonymous Coward

    "psychology prof D W Rajecki"

    his revelations could make for some interesting interviews for his department's next intake of undergrads...

    loads pistol, aims at foot, pulls trigger

    he must have tenure

    1. Anonymous Coward

      even better with his feet behind his head

      the body will be left alone, mostly perfect for organ transplants.

  4. Ryan Clark

    Not necessarily

    I did a psychology degree, but like most of my peers the degree bears no relation to our current career. I did something that I wanted to do at uni and had 3 great years while there. Having the degree opened doors afterwards, the subject was largely irrelevant.

    @AC - don't assume psychology students are stupid. I did OK at A level with 5, including Maths, Physics and Chemistry and went to my first choice uni. which required min of BBC.

    1. Chris Thomas Alpha


      "don't assume psychology students are stupid." <--- ok, we won't assume it, since you chose it willingly I would say that it's pretty clear you are stupid, no assumption is therefore required.

    2. chr0m4t1c

      Maybe this is a daft question

      Why aren't psychology graduates using their skills to help further their careers or boost their pay in negotiations?

      90% of career progression comes from impressing (or successfully manipulating) people above you in the food chain. Doesn't psychology give you a set of skills to give you an unfair advantage over everyone else in those situations?

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Psych-ing the boss

        > Doesn't psychology give you a set of skills to give you an unfair advantage over everyone else in those situations?

        In an ordinary job, maybe. However don't forget how the psych's boss got the job in the first place. Chances are they were/are a psychologist, too so they know the tricks (and can probably out-psych the minions, to keep them in their place, as well)

  5. David Lester
    IT Angle

    Lewis: there's an IT flip side...

    Whilst the popularity of Psychology probably lies more in it's promise to aid understanding of other humans, rather than subsequent employability; there's a mystery as to why -- here at Manchester -- our Computer Science courses are so un-popular, at least for UK students.

    Last year the department led the Engineering and Science Faculty tables on employability. Has this led to a major improvement in applications? Of course not! As Admissions Tutor I will be one of the few in the University going into clearing again this summer, and this despite having the target reduced by 10% a few weeks ago.

    Perhaps the Reg readership would like to get to the bottom of the subject's unpopularity. Is it that compulsory IT GCSE leaves people with the mistaken impression that Computer Science is IT? Do most people not realise that the subject is either discrete maths or electrical engineering, and consequently fail to get the requisite maths A-level? Answers on a postcard, please ...

    Still it's the same story over in Chemical Engineering, and they're the most well-rewarded newly-minted graduates.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      But the highest paid academics are

      software architects and engineers.

      Tell this to potential students and you suddenly have their attention.

    2. mittfh

      GCSE IT

      Probably leaves many with a disdain for the subject. I once taught one of the many variants, and pretty much all syllabi seemed to have a heavy bias towards designing spreadsheets and databases, which all but the brightest pupils regard as extremely hard / difficult, even if presented in tiny, bite-sized chunks.

      Let's face it - how many 15-year olds will end up in a career that requires designing a database from scratch, or using nested IF statements in a spreadsheet? Never mind expecting them to plan, evaluate and re-plan their project, and complete it largely without teacher support (EdExcel's DiDA family of qualifications, if taught according to the book)

    3. xenny


      IT and Chem Eng are both perceived as hard, hence the lack of applicants.

    4. Locky

      The problem with GCSE IT is...

      it's genrally not taught by teachers who understand it.

      At my daughers school I looked over her first IT homework, and corrected all the questions. The teacher didn't speak to me for the next 4 years.

    5. Anonymous Coward

      Ah! Manchester.

      I remember writing the admissions tutor at Manchester CompSci a letter asking a question before I filled in my UCAS application. He never replied (not even so much as an acknowledgement), so I took my A grades to Durham instead.

    6. Anonymous Coward

      Lack of applicants in certain fields

      I'd blame it on the continuing stigma around kids who know stuff around computers & on the near-complete lack of teaching of anything even arguably related prior to A Level, and even then only if your school offers A Level Computing or CS. There's damned smart people going off and doing the most ludicrous social science courses, then complaining of their limited value - 3 years in any of a number of courses would set them well for the future.

    7. trarch
      IT Angle

      CS @ Manchester

      There were two main reasons why I didn't choose Manchester (I should note I'm a local).

      First, the entry requirements were too high (AAB or AAB a few years ago if I recall).

      Secondly, it's in Manchester. I preferred a campus university where everything's in one enclosed space.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: CS @ Manchester

        Personally I was fine with the location & grades, what put me off was simply the sheer number of places - if there's about 100 people on your course you'll probably be able to recognise most of them eventually, let alone ~250.

    8. Pete 2 Silver badge

      They think the degree doesn't matter

      Why is (an obviously employable subject) so unpopular with BRITISH students?

      My small amount of observation has led me to the conclusion that most children in british schools receive very bad advice - or possibly, they also receive good advice which they choose to ignore. This comes from schools careers advisors and teachers who, themselves have no great incentive to push children into hard, technical subjects (some public schools may be the exception to this, I can't say - but it would explain a lot). Without getting into the whole debate about rearing children: should they do what they're told, or what they want to? there does seem to be a view that a university course should be one they like - not necessarily one that will get them a good job.

      Now, maybe there's some merit in that, provided they are also told that when they graduate at age 21 they will only be marginally more employable than they were at 18, but with another 3 years "on the clock", some unrealistic expectations (fueled by the popular myth that any degree == a job) that they are "worth more" than someone who didn't go to university, and a large millstone of debt around their necks.

      So given that their attitude is close to the idea that university is three years of partying with the occasional essay to hand in, and that they'll walk into a job at the end of it all, why should they pick a course that requires hard work and good "A"s? Especially when they haven't been encouraged to pick difficult subjects at school: what with the schools just wanting lots of A-grade passes for their league table position - irrespective of the subjects.

    9. Anonymous Coward

      @David Lester

      >our Computer Science courses are so un-popular, at least for UK students

      And if the foreign students realised how much it rained in Manchester you'd have even less of those. My offspring have to return home every break to top up with sun and dry out.


      >First, the entry requirements were too high (AAB or AAB a few years ago if I recall).

      Funny that, that's the reason my boy chose an IT related course in Manchester and even then he comments on the low level of knowledge of the UK students, maybe you should be doing a media studies course.

  6. mark adrian bell

    Oh dear...

    I guess they forgot to include any NURSING graduates in their survey. Not smart enough to do a "hard discipline"? Come do some nursing work with me. I'll show you a hard discipline. Psychologists don't get paid less because their discipline is "soft". They get paid less because the people who they help are easiest to forget.

  7. JimC

    I wonder if Engineering Grads do so well in the UK?

    I'm not sure a US study is going to be much of a guide for what happens in the UK.

  8. hitmouse

    Rewards for the taking

    If any of them could find their way to the end of a maze, then there's cheese for the taking!

  9. David Dawson


    Which average are we talking about?

    If its the mean, then boo hoo. Some of the graduates get paid lots, so it drags it up, thats life. It doesn't mean that its 'normal' in any meaningful way.

    If its significantly below the median, then there might be a concern, and that can be more correctly referred to as normal.

    How many types of lie are there again?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Psychologists are more concerned with helping people than seeking ever increasing salaries for ever decreasing hours worked.

    Unlike general practitioners, who'll typically see you for no longer than 10 minutes, or 5 if you need an emergency appointment.

  11. Bert 1

    Could it be...

    ..because, based on all the Psychology Graduates I've ever met, they're all complete nutters that you'd not touch with a barge pole?

    Completely unemployable the lot of 'em.

    They take Psychology to understand their own "issues".

  12. David Harper 1

    At least they can look down on sociology grads

    Graffiti seen above the toilet roll holder in a lavatory in the maths department of a Russell Group university, some years ago: "Sociology degrees - please take one!"

    1. J34
      Thumb Up

      compulsory xkcd goes here

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Lewis: there's an IT flip side...

    Really, Manchester going into clearing? As a 19 year old studying Comp Sci next September with hilariously bad grades (A-History C-Math D-Chemistry) I was amazed that I got in anywhere. But that could explain it. Tell me, would you consider someone like me with crap grades but a demonstrable engagement in the subject - eg extensive github with open-source projects. Blog working through Project Euler.

    AC because I don't want my name associated with these grades .

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @AC not associating with their grades

      Apart from the grades, by the sounds of it your experience would have put you about the 50th percentile for first year undergrads doing CS at mcr in the late nineties. I only had a C in maths and found keeping up a bear, but then I did proper engineering, not CS where iirc maths modules don't run contiguously.

  14. Muscleguy

    Discipline Fail

    Sigh, 'trick cyclists' is a term for psychiatrists which are like, different from psychologists. If you are going to write an article sneering at a group of people it helps not to appear ignorant about it.

    Also psychology straddles the boundary and includes people working on such things as neural nets (made with wetware neurons) and other hard core neuroscience. In my alma mater you could do it either as a BA or BSc with the two streams differing in their study areas after the introductory courses. Did those doing the study differentiate?

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Reason psychology graduates remain poor

    Maybe the reason psychology graduates remain poor is that they are intellectually underpar as compared to the rest of the graduate population, which is why they chose psychology in the first place.

  16. Doug Glass


    Just get a dog and talk to him (or her). They listen intently, never condemn you and no matter how despicable you are they will love and support you. And they do it for dog food and belly rubs. Try and get your local psychologist to do all that for Alpo and petting.

    1. Nipsirc


      I think you're thinking of psychotherapists, not psychologists. I'm loving this whole thread of people taking the piss out of a discipline when they don't actually know what the discipline even covers. Anyone would think you're all psychologists (or is it psychiatrists, or sociologists, or psychotherapists or...yawn, bored now).

  17. Jon Massey

    So what about people who want a career in psychology

    This all seems focussed on people who study psychology but then go onto another career path, but there are plenty of people who go the BSc Psychology - > DClinPsy -> NHS/Private Practice route and do very well with it. In fact, DClinPsy courses in the UK are massively over-subscribed and have incredibly stringent entry requirements.

  18. Anonymous Coward 101

    Did they adjust for...

    ...things which have a demonstrated effect on carrer salary, such as IQ?

  19. Anonymous Coward

    I see what you did!

    "A study in America has found that taking a degree in Psychology condemns you to a lifetime of being lower paid than those who study PROPER SCIENCES"

    I shouldn't laugh, but ahah anyway. When I was doing my A levels (science and technology), whoever was not accepted in any other universities would apply for (and be accepted in) psychology degrees. About 3 of them in my class of 30 IIRC.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Capitalism is a governance system that works - not a way of life

    ...psychology prof D W Rajecki. "I say, 'show me the money.'"...

    And I say, fuck the money. There's little evidence that it makes you happy beyond a certain threshold.

    I study what I study because I want to study it. Not because I want to spend the rest of my life doing something I hate just so I can afford a house I don't have the time to enjoy anyway.

  21. Anonymous Coward


    Its also a case of apples and oranges, both in comparing the UK and US, and also comparing within the UK. Many "soft" courses in the UK are NOT accredited by the British Psychology Society ( and so are dangerously hand-waving bums-on-seats courses, and too late the student realises that this course doesnt actually lead onto the professsion of being a Doctor of Psychology with for example the NHS, where such a person may actually have to make life impacting decisions.

    So, some courses are worth less than the paper they are written on, and others are respectable, statistics heavy science courses: caveat emptor. The UK is in fact world leading in transforming Psychology from its quacky dream interpreting roots into the modern science that it is, with careful control groups, ethical approval boards for scientific, repeatable experiments, and peer reviewed statistical analyisis of the results, and a very biology "how the mind works" approach (which has many paralells with computing science). I'm not sure how they USoA compares, but the good UK courses are very good, but the many "soft" uncredited courses might be dragging down the average salary (and rightly so).

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  22. Arms Control Poser

    Chem Eng and Psych

    Chem Eng's entrance requirements, even at the best universities, are extremely low and the drop-out rates extremely high. The ChemEng graduates I know are all now bankers.

    Psychology is an incredibly mixed-bag of a subject, ranging from hard neuroscience to simple statistics based on asking people how they feel (and based on the unfathomable mystery that is The Human Brain (dum-dum!) both approaches are understandable). The subject is a well-known credentialling gateway to jobs such as policing and social services, not all of which are terribly well-paid.

    Many CS and IT courses, particularly conversion courses, are also not terribly demanding and rather dull. Then there's the fact that the A-level is historically not as highly regarded by admissions tutors as PhysicsMathsBiologyChemistry - even for admission to CS courses.

  23. John Tserkezis


    They're just trying to raise the apparent value of the liberal arts. When it's been proven again and again, they're only good as stepping stone to some of the "proper" science degrees. Or ANY other proper degree for that matter.

    Either way, I don't see the value, as I can say "Would you like fries with that" without either degree.

    1. David Dawson

      Sounds like...'ve found your ideal profession then ...


    2. Anonymous Coward

      "Either way, I don't see the value"

      Which rather proves their point, doesn't it?

  24. Alan Brown Silver badge

    So many students do psychology...

    .. because it's cheap and regarded as an easy course.

    Just like back in the early 80s when BBS was regarded as "the degree you couldn't fail"

    Back then the vast majority of students in the university I attended were BBS or Psych students. For the most part all they cared about was getting drunk and partying - and just couldn't understand why the Engineers/Sciences/Medical students didn't like them (something to do with being kept awake by said activities and tarred with the same brush by the local population - who were largely fed up with drunken student antics...)

    The university in question has a good reputation for science/engineering graduates and is one of the top five vet schools in the world - but those made (and still make) up a very small percentage of total graduates.

    The thing which made my skin crawl back in the 80s was that a high proportion of the female psych students freely admitted they had no real intention of completing their degrees but were simply there to find a suitably bright husband with good career prospects to support them for the rest of their lives.

  25. Jon Massey
    Thumb Up


    I entirely agree. Basically this was an opportunity for El Reg to have a dig at what it sees as a soft, wooly science but, in fact, can definitely be a proper hard science and is taught as such in many places in the UK.

  26. Scott 19


    I thought with the crack down here in the UK they where getting rid of joke courses?

  27. mad_dr

    Let's just hope...

    ... that none of the critics on here ever suffers from a mental illness (statistically they have around a 1 in 3 chance of doing so...) - I assume that having so little of positive note to add, they'd clearly eschew any such scientifically proven methods of diagnosis or treatment in favour of a course of smug, self-righteous chuckling and denial...

    Good luck with that!

  28. scott 30

    Why are so many IT commentators so blatantly ignorant?

    I did joint degrees - one in Psychology and the other in Management 15 years ago.

    Here I've been grossing 6 figures (euros) for 10 years now (doing neither I must add)....I guess I must be one of those outlier wotzits.

    Psychology, like "CompSci", has a wide range of quality in the courses. Then,as now I'm sure, there are very few pure 100% Psychologist jobs out there. The postgrads who end up in the job market tend to do it less for the money than for the fascination of their particular area of expertise, ditto for the lecturers. Same could be said for just about any social science, even "harder" subjects like Economics.

    Tis 100% true that a large proportion of the 1st year students on my course were unsuspecting introspective types "looking for answers" - and more fool them for signing up to a degree they didn't actually know. They'd have been much better served with a year in Philosophy to be honest. Supply and demand though - the undergrads wanted the courses, the Uni supplied them. Less than 10% made it to the final year, and of those I know none who didn't follow onto post-grad got jobs "doing Psychology".

    15 years on, I still appreciate the rigor of 4 years of hard statistical analysis. Neurophysiology still fascinates me. Child development has come in very handy with the kids. Freud bored me to tears, but learning the history of the subject was crucial - it certainly helped whilst watching Lost (hats off to Milgram!). It's just a shame there wasn't a course on dealing with sad arrogant IT tw@ts who as usual don't know what they're talking about.


    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Joint degrees

      > It's just a shame there wasn't a course on dealing with sad arrogant IT tw@ts who as usual don't know what they're talking about.

      Errr, isn't that why you took the second degree in Management?

      1. scott 30

        try and keep up...

        *sigh* it was a joint degree - which were 2 degrees done at the same time (not sure if it's still possible). I knew before starting the Psychology degree I wouldn't be pursuing that career path due to a lack of filthy lucre filled opportunities. It was actually fun doing a course I was interested in, and also offered a 75/25 female/male ratio in first that to Engineering or IT course shall we??

        Don't get me wrong - lots of mates did Engineering, CompSci, Physics etc - some to Doctorate levels, mostly all academically smarter than me. With the exception of the one who did Law, none are doing what they graduated in - and income levels vary massively. One very bright mate who studied bio sciences is happy getting paid peanuts to be a sysadmin for his old college (now Uni). Zero stress, long holidays etc. Money isn't everything - and it doesn't take a degree in Psychology to figure that one out!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a soft option

    A BPS accredited degree is a very long way from a soft option. Anyone with a mental disorder, or who has a child with learning difficulties, or conditions like autism or depression, or who needs counseling for problems like genetic disorders like diabetes, won't see such graduates as idiots who took the easy option.

    My wife has a psych degree and works with amputees, including, these days, many injured soldiers. She gets paid crap money, but that's not because she's stupid or worthless.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      My friend works as an NHS psychologist, often working to help difficult and violent people, and increasingly, brain injured soldiers. She earns half of my salary, despite the fact that my jobs contribution to society is zero (or possibly even negative now I am a 'Bank'Coder...). I am humbled when I speak with her and hear about the stress and genuine difficult decisions you must make in that job.

      I also know that to reach that position it wasnt a 'soft' path. Studying on a good (BPS accredited) psychology course is like a cross between studying statistics and law, and its a *science*, based upon observation, hypothesis, and mathematical analysis of experimental results, possibly even more so than many IT courses are. Competition for final places is cut-throat towards the end of the degree too.

    2. Anonymous Coward 101

      Yes, but

      As many have said, you need more than a degree in psychology to become a clinical psychologist. Psychology isn't a course for idiots per se, just that idiots are statistically more likely to study psychology.

  30. Graham Marsden


    ... they should have gone into Psychiatry instead since that's a growth area in the USA!

  31. Ken 16 Silver badge

    You don't have to be crazy to work here?

    I'll get my coat.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Even psychology professors obtain appointments at the lower end of that salary scale."

    Well, of course. Academics are generally paid poorly (unless you are a Principal or Vice-Chancellor, of course, in which case your pay is totally detached from reality and trumps even some low-level bankers) compared to their students upon entering the "real world" - why get paid £25k to teach the same stuff year in year out ad nauseam and subject to strict conditions, when you can get paid £50k to actually do it on a standard 40 hour week instead of having to deal with snotty hungover students and endless marking? Psychology seems to have become "cool" all of a sudden, and loads of people are doing it without any regard to or concept of what the subject actually entails or what their career plans are much like Sociology or BPS in the 1980s.

    Psychology is not the generic yet impressive "catch-all" discipline people think it is. It's a difficult, scientific subject which leads specifically into a number of career routes which are often not considered by those applying to do it.

    AC because I've made my disdain for the academic system too clear in the past, and people are starting to give me hassle over it.

  33. Hawkmoth

    validates one of my employability axioms

    If you want a job that pays, pursue a discipline with answers that can be checked. If your answer is as good as my answer, or if there's no easy way to assess the difference between your answer and mine, why should I pay you for yours?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm surprised at the IT crowd reaction

    I did software Engineering and it included all sorts... Even psychology! Yes, the part of the course that covered human computer interaction, was psychology. How to design user interfaces.

    Psychology is hugely prevalent in computing, it's why the buttons you click are where they are, it's why web ad's are so annoying, it's why some applications are 'nice' to use and some horrible. In fact, almost every way you interact with a computer has an element of psychology to it.

    Maybe it was just my course though, I also did chunks of management, maths, art, language, history, etc. I was told that in order to be good at building software, you had to have a broad knowledge, as your system could be engineered for almost any purpose.

  35. Rambler88

    not poorly paid enough...

    Unfortunately, at least in the U.S., "poorly paid" does not mean they are innocuous. Psych grads, in the clinical field at any rate, are, shall we say, a very distinct population, and are overwhelmingly dangerous lunatics when put in the positions of authority that their allegedly scientific qualifications give them, however ill-paid. If anything, the low pay makes them vengeful and thus even more aggressive.

    @mark adrian bell: Nursing is indeed a demanding field with demanding training. But nurses (I deal professonally with a lot of them) nonetheless tend to hugely overestimate how demanding it is and how exceptional they are--they think it gives them the last word on everything, and I do mean "everything", ignoring the facts that there are many aspects of the sum total of human knowledge that nursing training doesn't cover, and there are many more demanding disciplines out there. In fact, a syndrome with significant resemblances to the clinical psychology syndrome.

  36. Suburban Inmate

    Nevermind money...

    It's the thought that counts!

  37. David Cantrell

    Pointless title, which must contain letters and/or digits.

    Good news for Blighty's blighted yoof though, from that well-known news source "Desert Island Discs". When the lovely Kirsty recently interviewed professor David Phillips, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, he said that he's seen a big increase in the last couple of years in people applying for Proper Science courses, as they've realised that studying easy subjects doesn't help them get a job.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    Just a thought

    Maybe it's because most psychology students are female. I don't have a great deal of evidence to back this up only what my daughter tells me about the M/F ratio on her course.

    Also, having seen her workload I can see that most of the commentards have no idea of what's involved in a psychology degree.

  39. Eddy Ito

    Special != above average

    So their mothers told them they were special and unique. Perhaps they should have inquired more about exactly what she meant.

  40. Antipodean

    Poor for life? Nope.

    An old gf of mine was a clinical psych, specialising in CBT and kids.

    Her first ten years at a charitable institution wasn't too shabby at around AUD$50K per annum gross, but when she moved to private practice that moved swiftly to $80K and kept increasing.

    It's ten years later and she's pulling more than AUD$150K.

    Happy? Yes. Poor? Heck no. She's doing nicely.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I did a joint degree in Computer Science and Cognitive Science (a branch of Psychology). Personally, I found Psychology more difficult than Computer Science. I don't recall any difference in general intelligence between Computer Science students and Psychology students.

    Briefly I worked as a poorly paid Psychology Research Assistant which included teaching programming skills to first year psychology students. Some of them were probably more capable than some of the 'experienced' programmers I currently work with.

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