Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
STUDENT LIFE / NOV. 08, 2013
version 8, draft 8

Your High School Math Performance May Predict Your Future Salary

Students who completed higher level math in high school experience lower rates of unemployment and get better salaries, on average, than their counterparts who studied low-level math, according to new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, former Cleveland researcher Jonathan James found that:

  • Full-time employees who completed high school but did not attend college earned about $1.30 more per hour if they took advanced geometry or algebra courses than if they stopped at basic geometry or algebra.
  • High math achievers tend to be less susceptible to unemployment. This means that the more math one takes, the more one earns on average, and the more likely one is to have a job.
  • Full-time workers aged 20 to 30 who dropped out of high school have higher average salaries by $1.66 per hour if they did geometry or algebra II, instead of just introductory algebra courses, and are less likely to be unemployed.
  • The unemployment rate for dropouts with less advanced math is 33%, while for dropouts with higher level of math amounts to 27%.

Students should leverage smart choices at high-school if they can’t afford college

According to James, “Students who find college prohibitively costly can potentially increase their earnings by making smarter choices while in high school, an institution with zero monetary costs". James’ viewpoint challenges the idea that a degree itself can always open the door to a highly paid job.  It is rather more important for a student to be more careful in what courses he chooses to take while in high school. High-level math is a subject worth investing in as it helps broadening students’ career horizons.  

Although the study does not clarify why higher achievement in math leads to increased earning potential, someone may speculate that in a contemporary job market, advanced math skills correlate to a higher-paying job, because mathematics provide an abundance of skills that are transferable in the workplace. Studying math generally means you have the ability to analyse patterns, see relationships, develop logic and use critical thinking and problem solving skills to get the right result. All of which are essential in the modern workplace.

Interestingly, over the past three decades, the percentage of high school graduates who completed advanced Algebra courses has increased dramatically. In 1982, 39% of high school graduates completed Algebra II or higher where as in 2009, this percentage climbed to a staggering 75%. This changing trend shows that students have recognised that math is an essential requirement for both entry to university and a well paid job. 

All in all, the results show that higher levels of math achievement are more likely to benefit you in the labour market whether you finish high school or attend university. Math attainment strongly relates to better career prospects such as a high salary and employability. It is also clear that nowadays, a mere diploma cannot guarantee a bright career. Instead, individual courses like advanced math may prove more powerful to safeguard a high salary.

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