Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Is a Ph.D. worth the time and effort?

Here's an interesting tidbit from The Economist regarding Ph.D.'s:
PhD graduates do at least earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree. A study in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management by Bernard Casey shows that British men with a bachelor’s degree earn 14% more than those who could have gone to university but chose not to. The earnings premium for a PhD is 26%. But the premium for a master’s degree, which can be accomplished in as little as one year, is almost as high, at 23%. In some subjects the premium for a PhD vanishes entirely. PhDs in maths and computing, social sciences and languages earn no more than those with master’s degrees. The premium for a PhD is actually smaller than for a master’s degree in engineering and technology, architecture and education. Only in medicine, other sciences, and business and financial studies is it high enough to be worthwhile. Over all subjects, a PhD commands only a 3% premium over a master’s degree.
This does seem to disagree somewhat with the statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, which showed that in the U.S. there is a smaller earnings gap between a bachelor's and a master's degree than between a master's and a Ph.D. Of course, the Census Bureau doesn't control for whether someone could have gotten into a degree program but chose not to enroll.


  1. Ah, but PhD wasn't primarily about money, initially. Yes, doctors of philosophy were rewarded handsomely, but primarily it was notoriety, prestige and for the few select professions the requirement that drove people to attain them (not to mention love of the subject matter).

  2. Another non-trivial upside to the PhD is decreased susceptibility to unemployment. If you buy BLS statistics (and why not?), there's a 0.5 percentage point PhD advantage in employability over a Master's Degree.