New IU study examines value of certain disciplines and professions during a recession
Those with degrees in health, education and life sciences had the lowest chances of being unemployed
Aug. 23, 2012
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new report from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business offers insights into the value of certain disciplines and professions during a recession.
The report, "Major Unemployment: How Academic Programs of Study Affect Hoosier Unemployment Patterns," was produced by the Indiana Business Research Center. It found that graduates' choice of academic major can greatly influence the probability of becoming unemployed during a severe economic downturn.
"This study explores the potential effect of academic majors on unemployment dynamics -- the risks of becoming unemployed and the likely duration of unemployment," said Timothy Slaper, study co-author and the IBRC's director of economic analysis.
Previous studies have demonstrated the economic benefits of having a college degree. This project looks at what Hoosiers have found to be the most employable professions and is modeled after a similar study done by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
IBRC researchers used data from the Indiana Workforce Intelligence System to examine the employment history in 2009-10 of 178,000 people living in Indiana who graduated from state public colleges and universities. They were classified into 16 groups, based on their program of study.
They found that those with degrees related to architecture, industrial arts, consumer service and engineering had the highest probability of becoming unemployed during or just after the Great Recession. One of every 13 graduates in those fields experienced some period of unemployment from 2009 to 2010.
On the other hand, those who pursued degrees in health, education and biology/life sciences had the lowest chances of being unemployed. Only one out of every 44 graduates in those fields found themselves unemployed.
The researchers also looked at how the level of degree attainment -- ranging from a certificate or associate degree to bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees -- affected the odds of unemployment.
"Health-related majors are the programs of study with the least probability of being unemployed, regardless of degree level," the report said. "Compared to other levels of degree attainment, sub-baccalaureate graduates had wider ranges of unemployment probability. For example, more than one in five certificate holders in engineering, industrial arts/consumer services and business became unemployed between 2009 and 2010."
The majors with the greatest chance of being unemployed depended on the degree level. For example, among bachelor's degree recipients, communication/journalism graduates had a greater chance of being unemployed -- the third most likely field among those at that degree level.
At the master's level, business graduates moved into the third highest unemployment probability slot.
"The academic majors with lower chances of unemployment also varied by degree level, but the majors of biology/life science, health and education still have a general lock on the programs of study with the least chance of being unemployed," Slaper said.
The likelihood of becoming unemployed declined as degree attainment rose for all the program of study categories.
A second part of the research looked at the 7,400 people who were unemployed during the study period to see how programs of study affected how long they were unemployed.
The report revealed that health majors -- if they found themselves unemployed -- were likely to be in that situation for the shortest time, usually four weeks or less.
Architecture graduates consistently had the greatest chance of prolonged unemployment -- more than 26 weeks. They had only a 28 percent chance of finding work in four weeks or less.
While their chances of becoming unemployed were high, industrial arts and engineering graduates often found their time without work could be relatively brief.
"What affects the probability and duration of unemployment more: academic program of study? The level of degree attained? The industry of one's employment? Our analysis of the employment history of Indiana's public university and college graduates in the aftermath of the Great Recession points to the academic program of study having the most profound effect," the report concluded.
A complete copy of the report is available online at the IBRC website.
The Indiana Workforce Intelligence System is one of the first systems in the nation to integrate student and worker data to understand how education affects workforce outcomes. A unique collaboration of Indiana state agencies and university research, the Indiana Workforce Intelligence System provides the data needed to measure those outcomes and develop performance metrics.
Major support for Indiana Workforce Intelligence System development and research has been received from the Lilly Endowment and Lumina Foundation, with support also from the Joyce Foundation. To learn more about this study and others performed using the system, visit the Indiana Workforce Intelligence System website.