Want to make money? Study maths!

By Maths Doctor Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What a difference a paycheck makes! University of Birmingham study shows students 39% more likely to study maths at A-level when they know the financial gain.

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Research released by the University of Birmingham has revealed that students are much more likely to take up mathematics at A-Level if they are made aware of the potential earning power the subject can present them with. So persuasive it this perk of the subject, students who receive this information are over a third more likely to study maths.

The experiment was simple, splitting approximately 5,597 GCSE aged students from around the country between two groups, those that were informed about earning potential and those that weren't.

With the first group of teens, the session started by asking the students to chose between two options,

Option 1: The choice of leaving school with two A-levels and going straight into the workplace
Option 2: The choice of going to university to study for an art degree

They were provided with no more additional information, but to simply state their preferred choice. Following their decision, they were then informed of the potential earnings by the age of 30 that they could expect as a result of their choice.

The group one session proceeded to look at labour market data on projected income categorised by subject.

In contrast to the first set of students, the second group faced exactly the same choice of option 1 and 2 above, but this time without any of the following details about the salary expectations as a consequence.

The findings made a staggering difference it turned out, with the effect of knowing the earning potential prior to making a career choice extremely significant.

The results showed that pupils from the first group who received information on graduate earnings were 39% more likely to study maths than those in the second, "control" group.

Unsurprising it may be that the students decision for studying certain subjects, such as maths, are highly motivated by the likelihood to earn more money further down the line, the study does make apparent the fact that many pupils are unaware of this benefit.

Peter Davies, professor of education policy research at Birmingham University, who led the study, said: "The only subject where there is clear evidence that studying it at A-level makes a difference to future earnings is maths, which can lead to high-salary occupations such as engineering.

'What we now know for sure from this research is that better information about graduate salaries would increase take-up of maths and would do so very cheaply, without having to coerce children into studying it."

The study, which will be presented at the Society for Research into Higher Education's annual research conference, concludes: "Policymakers are frequently concerned with encouraging sufficient students to take Stem subjects. The results of our trial suggest simply telling students what is in it for them could be sufficient to affect their choices."