Double majors: A smart move for weathering economic storms

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In the ever-changing job market, choosing what to study in college can feel like a high-stakes decision.

A recent study sheds light on an intriguing strategy for students looking to safeguard their future incomes: opting for a double major.

According to research led by Andrew Hanks from The Ohio State University, having two majors instead of one can significantly cushion the blow if the economy takes a dive.

The study, which looked at data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey between 2009 and 2019, discovered that double majors are less affected by economic downturns.

On average, people with two majors experienced a 56% reduction in the impact of negative wage changes compared to their single-major peers.

This protective effect was even stronger for those who chose two majors in completely different fields, like engineering and business, reducing their risk by 64%, as opposed to 36% for those with closely related majors.

Why does having two majors make such a difference? The research team, including economics professor Bruce Weinberg and Ph.D. graduate Xuechao Qian, believes it’s all about diversification.

Just like investors spread their risks by investing in a variety of stocks, students who double major diversify their skills and knowledge.

This not only makes them more versatile and valuable to employers but also better equipped to adapt to changes in the job market.

Interestingly, the study, which was published as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research on January 29, 2024, also found that double majors aren’t necessarily earning more than single majors right out of college.

The real benefit lies in their enhanced job security and ability to navigate economic ups and downs.

The researchers looked into whether the advantages seen among double majors could be due to other factors, such as the quality of the schools they attended or their parents’ education levels.

However, even after considering these variables, the findings held strong, suggesting that the act of pursuing two majors itself contributes to their resilience against income shocks.

These insights have implications for how colleges can support their students.

Encouraging collaboration between different academic departments and providing career counseling that emphasizes the value of diversifying skills could help more students benefit from this strategy.

The research team also notes that it’s never too late for individuals to broaden their knowledge and skillset, which could be beneficial in a volatile labor market.

In summary, for college students pondering their academic paths, considering a double major might be a wise investment in their future financial stability.

This approach offers a form of insurance against the uncertainty of the economy, making it a practical choice for those looking to build a resilient career.