Friday, March 16, 2012

Why there are very few chemists (and a lot of chemistry majors!) in the 1%

Courtesy of Shawn Burdette of Worcester Polytechnic, I see that people are promoting this infographic about top college majors of the "1 percent."* It's a visualization of the data from this New York Times Economix blog post which purports to show the majors of individuals who live in the 1% of households:
I think this is an interesting chart because it shows the different ways that income data can be somewhat obscuring.** First of all, this is the 1% of households, which quite often means that there are 2 income earners. The overall income level is somewhere in the range of $300,000, which is a lot of money by any standard. But it could come from two people making $150,000 or 1 person making $300,000. Second, these are college majors, which have a relatively poor correlation with the actual occupation of the income earner. Both medicine and business are relatively famous for taking people from all undergraduate majors -- just as long as they excel in the specific knowledge sets that are needed. Of these 14 majors, I basically see 3 groupings: physicians, attorneys and businesspeople. If someone were to tell you that those were the constituents of elite income earners, no one would be surprised.

Chemistry majors somehow fall into this grouping of top majors in the 1%. If the math from the above chart is accurate, there are 44,505 chemistry majors who live in 1% households. (Remember, there are only about 80,000 chemists in the US.) I speculate:
  • There are a lot of physicians who have an undergraduate degree in chemistry. 
  • There are relatively few bench-level chemists in those households.
  • There are a lot of salespeople, sales managers, senior managers, pharmaceutical patent lawyers and business owners in those households. 
    • For example, this New York Times news graphic (thanks, James!) shows that there are 2,554 individuals who are managers of industrial chemicals companies living in the top 1%. Also, there are 2,824 individuals who are sales managers of "drugs, chemicals and allied products". 
Why do I care? I don't, really. But I'm bothered by potential misconceptions of chemists and chemistry majors, especially brought on by fancy-looking infographics.

* Has anyone noticed these infographics and how they've been proliferating? Does anyone ever notice that they're usually linked to the charlatans promoting online colleges fine businesspeople promoting alternative schooling? 
** Does anyone believe that actual zoologists are making lots and lots of money? Are they stupid or something?


  1. When I started college, they told us that "medical schools were saturated with biology majors, and that one could get ahead by doing PreMed-Chemistry" So we had a lot of people who had no interest in doing chemistry... getting Chemistry BS degrees (emphasis on BS)


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20