Why Majors Matter: Occupation Specificity, Job Skills, and College Selectivity

46 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2021 Last revised: 4 Oct 2023

Date Written: October 20, 2021


We provide new evidence on the returns to college majors and institutional selectivity. Using unique resume data, we devise new groupings of majors and use these to construct five measures that characterize majors. Applying these measures to the National Survey of College Graduates, we find that majors that lead to jobs that are math-intensive or writing-intensive have higher earnings and also a higher return to selectivity. Majors that are occupationally specific also have higher earnings but have a lower return to institutional selectivity. We find that the value of selectivity relative to major increases as selectivity rises.

Keywords: College majors, College selectivity, Returns to schooling

JEL Classification: J24, I23, I26

Suggested Citation

Weiss, Deborah M. and Spitzer, Matthew L. and Cronin, Colton and Chin, Neil, Why Majors Matter: Occupation Specificity, Job Skills, and College Selectivity (October 20, 2021). Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No.21-12, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 21-34, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3946507 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3946507

Deborah M. Weiss (Contact Author)

Northwestern University School of Law ( email )

600 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60601
United States

Matthew L. Spitzer

Northwestern University School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-8434 (Phone)

Colton Cronin

Vanderbilt University, Law School ( email )

Neil Chin

Columbia University SIPA ( email )

420 West 118th Street
New York, NY
United States

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