A college notebook and a fact sheet with statistics and a bar chart.

English major statistics that challenge what you know

Looking for English major statistics that will show you how they fare in the job market and beyond? You’ve come to the right place. This fact sheet will show you what enrollment looks like, which jobs they occupy, and what kind of salaries they earn. These stats come from top sources that your professor would approve of, too.

It’s exactly the kind of data you need to make an informed choice about starting a degree or making the most of one after graduation.

 

5 facts about English majors, including total English programs in the U.S., how many degrees were conferred in 2019, the 31.5% enrollment drop since 2008, the 1.7 million English majors in the workforce, and the $51,000 median salary.

 

Facts about English majors

One of the most striking facts about English majors is the enrollment data. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the total number of English bachelor’s degrees conferred annually has fallen by 31.5% in the United States between 2008, the start of the Great Recession, and 2020.

The highest number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in one year was 63,914 in 1971, according to the NCES records. There were 38,036 degrees conferred in 2019, a 40.5% drop from 1971. You can see the dramatic dips in the line chart below.

 

Line chart showing English bachelor's degrees conferred per year from 1971 to 2019.

 

These other quick facts about English majors can tell you about the scope of today’s programs:

  • There are 3,359 English programs throughout the United States. (BLS)
  • 39,335 bachelor’s degrees in English were conferred in the United States in 2019.
  • 8,217 master’s degrees in English were conferred in the United States in 2019.
  • 1,274 doctoral degrees in English were conferred in the United States in 2019.

 

Green pie chart showing that 80.6% of English degrees earned in 2018 were bachelor's degrees, while 16.8% were master's degrees and 2.6% were doctoral degrees.

 

Check out this chart to see how those degrees break down by type and sex in the United States in 2019, according to the NCES.

English bachelor’s degrees English master’s degrees English doctoral degrees
Total 39,335 8,217 1,274
Female 28,062 5,582 790
Male 11,273 2,635 484

 

One of the other little-known facts about being an English major is that you don’t have to study literature exclusively, depending on the program. 92% of students in this program do study literature, but 8% study composition and rhetoric.

 

Blue pie chart showing 71.3% of English degrees conferred in 2019 went to women, and 28.7% went to men.

 

English major employment statistics

Here you’ll find the most popular jobs that English majors hold, their most common industries, and things like their unemployment (and underemployment) rate.

Here are the quick employment statistics:

  • More than 1,717,00 English majors exist in the U.S. workforce.
  • 21% of English majors are employed part-time.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are the ten most commonly held jobs of English majors.

 

Orange bar chart showing the top 10 jobs that English majors hold as a per cent of all English degree holders.

 

Job for English Major % of English grads in job Job growth, 2020 – 2030
Post-secondary teachers 6% +24%
Lawyers 5% +9%
Authors or creative writers 2% +9%
High school teachers 4% +8%
Educational administrators 2% +8%
Elementary school teachers 6% +7%
Personal service managers 4% +7%
Editors 2% +5%
Chiefs executives 2% -6%
Secretaries or assistants 2% -8%

 

One of the most surprising job statistics about English majors is that only 2% of them become authors or creative writers in the United States. That’s the same likelihood as becoming a chief executive. Equally surprising is that only 2% become editors, even though an English degree is supposed to be a perfect for the publishing industry.

Also worth noting is that 5% of English majors become lawyers.

 

Blue and green pie chart showing major employment areas where English majors work. Sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

Here you can see the most popular categories of roles in which English majors work:

  • Education and libraries: 22%
  • Management occupations: 16%
  • Arts, design, media, and entertainment: 9%
  • Offices and administration roles: 9%
  • Business and finance: 8%
  • Other: 36%

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has also recorded interesting statistics about English majors’ employment rates.

  • Unemployment rate: 4.5%
  • Underemployment rate: 52.5%

 

Orange unemployment chart comparing 22 programs, with English grads sitting at 4.5%.

 

That’s a staggering underemployment rate. More than half of graduates with English degrees work in roles that don’t meet their level of qualifications.

What’s interesting here is that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 61% of English majors also work in roles that require a bachelor’s degree. The answer might lie in grad school: 45-46% of English majors in the U.S. hold an advanced degree, which could render many roles below the expected pay grade of anyone with a professional designation or a master’s degree (both the BLS and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York cite this number).

 

Orange underemployment chart comparing English with 21 other programs. English's rate is 52.5%.

 

English major salary statistics

One of the most important English major facts: what do they earn? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of an English major is $51,000 USD.

 

Green bar graph comparing the median salary of English majors with other humanities programs.

 

That’s on the low end of humanities programs. Here’s how that number compares to similar fields (also from the BLS):

  • Archaeology and anthropology median salary: $66,000
  • Political science median salary: $64,000
  • History median salary: $60,000
  • Philosophy and religious studies median salary: $55,000
  • Law median salary: $53,000
  • English median salary: $51,000
  • Visual and performing arts median salary: $42,000

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has some additional insights, however. Its research shows that English majors earn a median salary of $35,000 on in their early careers, but reach $60,000 at peak career.

 

Orange line graph showing the median salary for English majors over time.

 

The Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project has even more granular data, as you can see in the line graph above. Here’s what it says about the median English major salary over the course of 25 years.

Year of Career Median Salary in USD
Year 1 $31,000
Year 2 $32,000
Year 3 $37,000
Year 4 $39,000
Year 5 $41,000
Year 6 $42,000
Year 7 $45,000
Year 8 $45,000
Year 9 $49,000
Year 10 $52,000
Year 11 $53,000
Year 12 $53,000
Year 13 $53,000
Year 14 $55,000
Year 15 $55,000
Year 16 $58,000
Year 17 $63,000
Year 18 $62,000
Year 19 $69,000
Year 20 $64,000
Year 21 $68,000
Year 22 $64,000
Year 23 $69,000
Year 24 $67,000
Year 25 $76,000
Year 26 $64,000
Year 27 $69,000
Year 28 $72,000
Year 29 $69,000
Year 30 $63,000

 

With this data you can decide on pursuing this major, or you can assess your career outlook if you’ve already committed to an English program. With a median salary of $51,000 and a strong presence in secure industries (like education, law, and management services), your future will be bright.

Looking for specific jobs you can fill? Check out the rest of the Employed Historian blog for roles that fit your skill set.

Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb is on a mission to show humanities graduates how to land jobs and build careers. He turned a history degree and a 9-month stretch of unemployment into a fulfilling career in digital marketing and technology, then founded the Employed Historian blog to show humanities grads how to build their careers, too.

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