majors of the 1 percent image

During the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the country was divided by percentages: 99% vs. 1%. Some American’s kept the debate to kitchen tables and closed doors, while others took to the streets to voice their opinion. There is no arguing that the 99% definitely garnered most of the media’s attention, but what about the 1%?

After an academic advisor from a Texas university wrote in to the New York Times questioning what the top 1% of earners studied while they were in college, the newspaper decided to investigate. Their findings ranged from the surprising to the expected. Can you guess what the top 1% of earners majored in?

Taken from the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, these numbers show which undergraduate degrees the top earners held, how many were are in that major, the percentage that have made it into the top 1 percent and, finally, the percentage of the top 1 percent that represented those degrees.

Undergraduate DegreeTotal% Who Are 1 PercentersShare of All 1 Percenters
Health and Medical Preparatory Programs142,34511.8%0.9%
Biochemical Sciences193,7697.2%0.7%
International Relations146,7816.7%0.5%
Political Science and Government1,427,2246.2%4.7%
Art History and Criticism137,3575.9%0.4%
Molecular Biology64,9515.6%0.2%
Area, Ethnic and Civilization Studies184,9065.2%0.5%
Business Economics108,1464.6%0.3%

Don’t Forget Accounting

One major that just narrowly missed our list was Accounting which holds 2,296,601 students (the highest amount)  and 3.9% in the top 1 percent. Accounting is an understandable contender in terms of majors, but what about things like Art History and Criticism?

This list just goes to show that not all of those in the top 1% are bankers and politicians (although they did place high on this list). To see the full list click here.

Will This Change Your Career Path

Whether you are thinking about college, or have a child thinking about college a big concern in money, the list offers food for thought. Everyone wants a stable career path, but the weakened economy and even weaker jobs market has inspired people to branch out and look for more fulfilling work.

As paychecks become less of a motivator, it begs the question of how the professional space will change in the future. Something tells me there are still going to be people striving to get into the 1% no matter how much blood, sweat and tears it takes.

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  • Dniedrauer

    What percentage of the Art History and Criticism majors in the 1% are girls who married rich? Basically, this list is flawed because it does not separate between those who earned their wealth and those who got it through inheritance or marriage. So this list is really meaningless.  

    • ~DaD

      In addition what percent of the list were athletes on a free ride on their way to the pros. 

      • The life of a college athlete is hardly a “free ride.”  Those young men work as hard as professional athletes yet are treated like slave labor.  Yet a tiny percentage ever make it to the show and their career expectancy is usually brief.  This is NOT a ‘free ride.”

        • CJ

          Ya what a hard life, play the game they love and get a free education from top-tier institutions while they do it. Who cares if they ever get to the pros, the free education is worth all the “hard work”/playing for an education free of student loans.

  • Jmarshall9

    The more difficult the major the more the degree is worth. The 99% major in basket weaving, that is why they earn less. smart poeple are worth more than dumb people in the job market.

    • randomhell

       If “smart people are worth more than dumb people in the job market”, you must be working for minimum wage.

      • Ty

        random… umm jmarshall was not especially kind or eloquent in his comments, but the essence of what he is saying is correct.   some jobs pay more than others.  some college degress are worth more.  

        we live in a global economy.  our national political correctness does not serve us well.  if our children major in art, sociology and basket weaving, then they should not be surprised when someone, here or abroad, earns much more after majoring in engineering, math or finance.  

        pay is NOT random.  … if we try to ignore the logical rewards for pursuing a harder field of study, then the jobs and the money will go abroad where people have enough sense to see the connection between WHAT YOU CAN DO and how you are rewarded.

        if you WANT to study basket weaving, then good for you.  Just go into it with your eyes open and do not be suprised when you are monetarily rewarded in a manner which will allow you to live with the nicer things in live.

        • Guest

          Teachers and Engineers were not on the list, and those are two very difficult jobs.

          • Ty

            Guest,  if you are replying to my comment, pls go back and re-read again as you obviously missed my point.  Yes, working as a coal miner is even harder than being a teacher, but I would not say that should regulate the pay for each field.  My POINT WAS that you should go into these things with your ‘eyes open’ and if you are disappointed that your career choice does not pay more, then you should look to your own decisions and not be jealsous of someone who made a career choice that rewarded them in a better fashion.

    • MikeSchilling

      Which is why you see so many mathematicians, physicists, and chemical engineers among the 1%.  Not.

  • ninetyniner

    Thank you, Dniedrauer.  I have a BA and MA in Art History, came from a lower-middle-class background, and don’t make sh1t.  People rarely make money in Art History.  You get in it to be a penniless professor who loves it, or you study it to study something because it’s part of your trust fund deal.

    • Ty

      …. as long as kids go into this with their eyes open, then good for them!   

      there is nothing ‘unfair’ about a MA in Art History making less than a software programmer.  ‘fairness’ has nothing to do with it.   …l just hate the idea of a kid going into a major like then and then being surprised he cannot afford a Benz and a vacation home in Hawaii.

  • barbara Vlaseros

    the 1% majored in how to spend their vast inheritance while appearing to have earned it themselves. 
    The 99% of the 1% is composed of people who made their money the old fashion way…… INHERITANCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    how stupid do you think people are?????

    • Ty

      barbara….. your words are empty and show blatant and unmitgated igngorance.   the ‘1%’ does not refer to the top 1% of the wealthy, but the top 1% of income earners.  BY DEFINITION, these are people who earned income.   Statistically, about half of the people in the top 2% in any given year were NOT in the top 2% two years prior to having that level of income NOR will they be in the top 2% in the following two years.  

      the top 2% (I don’t have the detailed numbers for the top 1%) are half just people who have either started a business and are taking a profit or they have some ‘payoff’ after years of investment.  A good porition of the rest are highly paid executives and professionals.  

      another number, the largest portion of people in the the top 5% of income EARNERS are in at or near retirement age.  Please not, I did not say ALL retirees are rich.  Rather, I am saying a sizable number of the top income earners have chosen to live the bulk of their lives where they have a payoff at the end. 

      barbara, please keep your hands out of my pockets. 

    • Nycpas

      The overwhelming majority of 1% did not inherit their money.  This is a well known fact!

  • Just read an article a few weeks ago outlining how in this job market engineering graduates are being hired by companies unrelated to engineering.  The point of the article was that engineering graduates have completed among the most rigorous academic programs available and thus are really the cream of the crop of college graduates.  I noticed no engineering on the list of the 1% but if you look at the complete list you will see about a dozen engineering disciplines listed separately but if you add them all together, it is clear that the article I reference had it about right.

  • Dmoran99

    I thought it was curious that tha article mentions only bachelors degrees.  I would guess that a lot of the biology or chemistry type of majors wne to medical school afterwars and earn in the 1% because they are now doctors.  I do not think there are a lot of great paying jobs for people with a 4 year degree in biology.

  • Alncec

    The “share of all 1 percenters” column only adds up to 29.50%. That isn’t even one-third of the total.  So what about the remainder? Didn’t they go to college?

    • Ty

      Most of the ‘1%’ info you see is hokum.   The top ‘1%’ of income earners are NOT the same as the top ‘1%’ wealthiest Americans.  … the truely wealthy don’t work.  
      When it comes to income tax, the top 1 percent of income earners paid 38 percent of all federal income taxes in 2008, while the bottom 50 percent paid only 3 percent.
      The whole thing is just firey speech try to seperate everyday Americans. 
      The most ironic part of the discussion is that the Occupy movement is financially supported by some of the richest people in the world… it is ALL about politics and not at all about everyday working people.

  • Mort Leith

    I think the MAIN thing that separates the 1%ers is the crazy high WORK ETHIC !

  • Anonymous

    These numbers are of no consequence until you can eliminate those who inherited money or a social advantage capable of producing it.

  • Anonymous

    What about the ones who did not attend college or who never finsihed? Ex. Bill Gates started college as a computer major but dropped out. Paris Hilton would classify as one of the 1% but will just inherit all her money and has never attended college.

    • Ty


      Depending on how you define ‘1%’, Paris Hilton would not be part of the 1%.  She may be part of the top 1% of wealth, but not of income earners.   The media and the OWS ppl both want to confuse us on these numbers.   Actually, does Bill Gates even count – I am not sure he takes a salary now.  Please remember, what is happening is the media and the OWS ppl are hand in hand confusing the top ‘1%’ of income earners with the top ‘1%’ of the wealthy.   These are, most of the time, NOT the same ppl!

  • Larry

    We need the smartest people to  go into the manufacturing arena, so we can grow our economy and be competitive.
    Modern ideas and innovation use to be Americas ace in the hole…

    Lets get it back one factory at a time.

  • usnDisqus

    If I were wealthy I wouldn’t study anything.  I would just drink, travel, and buy stuff.

    • Wowhaihai

      And that is why you will never be wealthy…

      Majority of self-made wealthy people are savers that knows how to invest their nest egg to become wealthy.  Not spend it on useless things such as “buy stuff” 

  • elsie314

    I am not surprised.  1%ers in my life fit this category, one, a doctor, the other, a government lawyer/ history major, working in D.C.  I do believe there is more to success than one’s field, although it certainly helps, but I believe a person’s  “brand”   distinguishes someone long before he or she becomes part of the 1%.  The choices one makes do count… it takes vision and opportunity, and talent — bottom line –and despite public opinion, hard work to make it.  Successful, very wealthy people have a combination of certain advantages that they know make a difference, such as  focus and discipline, love for their work, and location, that brought them to a place where they could be successful.  They also wouldn’t  argue they were  fortunate to have had a few  connections along the way, and that the school or neighborhood they lived in sustained their choices.  People who become very wealthy probably had someone “invested” in them, perhaps a sacrificing family member, or rich relatives,  teachers, coaches, etc. Scholarships, marriage connections, good character along with good smarts… mentors, people skills, add to the equation… not to mention having a good idea and believing in yourself, whatever the roadblocks. My problem is not with the 1%. If they made it, fine, I just want t  know if there is more ACCESS for the rest of us to share their vision.  This is precisely why we need to give a boost to the middle class, for all its worth, to strengthen it now,  to tell Congress, for starters,  to stop outsourcing jobs and to get smart about tax reform because the old structure is outdated.