How Do You Compare? Average Salaries in the U.S. 2021

The average salary for a new college graduate in 2020 was $55,260.
Anna HelhoskiNov 29, 2021

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Your salary probably doesn’t top the list of conversation topics when you’re at lunch with your co-workers. That makes it tough to tell whether you’re ahead of the curve or due for a raise.

But there are resources to help you compare.

The median personal income for an adult in the U.S. in 2020 was $35,805, according to the  Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Individual incomes vary widely due to a range of factors.

Education level

More education typically leads to higher wages and lower rates of unemployment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Educational attainment level

Median usual weekly earnings

Annual earnings

Doctoral degree

$1,885.

$98,020.

Professional degree

$1,893.

$98,436.

Master's degree

$1,545.

$80,340.

Bachelor's degree

$1,305.

$67,860.

Associate degree

$938.

$48,776.

Some college, no degree

$877.

$45,604.

High school diploma, no college

$781.

$40,612.

Less than a high school diploma

$619.

$32,188.

Source: An analysis of 2020 earnings data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Field of study and school attended

Earnings vary widely when it comes to a graduate’s field of study.

Top ten majors with the highest earning starting salaries

Major

Average starting salary

Petroleum engineering

$87,989.

Computer programming

$86,098.

Computer engineering

$85,996.

Computer science

$85,766.

Electrical, electronics and communications engineering

$80,819.

Operations research

$80,166.

Computer and information science

$78,603.

Statistics

$75,916.

Applied mathematics

$73,558.

Chemical engineering

$72,713.

Source: Summer 2021 Salary Survey of 2020 bachelor’s degree earners by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Some of the college majors with the lowest pay included education, social work, arts and religious vocations.

Advanced degrees often pay off in the same field of study. For example, a worker with a master’s degree in health and medical preparatory programs will typically earn 137% more than with a bachelor’s degree in the same field of study, according to the Economic Value of College Majors report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

But that pattern doesn’t always apply when you compare certain majors by degree level. For example, a worker with an associate degree in health practice occupations will earn more in their lifetime than a worker with a bachelor’s degree in legal occupations ($2.9 million versus $2.7 million). And a worker with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and engineering occupations will earn more than a worker with a master’s degree in health practice occupations ($3.9 million versus $3.4 million).

That also means that an advanced degree that you had to take on more debt for may not always pay off.

The school you attend could also affect your earnings. Use the College Scorecard, a data tool from the U.S. Department of Education, to compare data on earnings for your field of study across multiple colleges.

Experience level

Over the course of your career, wages will grow at different rates according to experience level, which typically correlates with age.

That’s why early career earners earn less than midcareer earners. Midcareer (ages 35-44) are typically where the largest increases will happen. By late career, wage increases are lower.

For example, a STEM major’s wage will grow more than other majors' wages throughout their career, according to Georgetown University’s CEW. From ages 25-34, the median wage is $60,000 and will increase to a median wage of $90,000 by ages 45-59. Compare that with a major in the health field, which has a median wage of $53,000 at ages 25-34 and grows to a median wage of $72,000 by ages 45-59.

Location

Earnings also differ according to where you live. For example, among bachelor’s degree holders, the highest earnings are among those who live in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio and Virginia, according to Georgetown University’s CEW. The lowest lifetime earnings among those with bachelor’s degrees are in Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota and Vermont.

For those who obtained higher degrees, federal data also shows earnings tend to be higher for those who live in cities versus rural areas.

Demographics

There are also earnings inequities that persist by gender and race. This not only lowers lifetime earnings, but can make it more challenging for those who earn less than their peers to repay student debt even in the same field or occupation.

Here are the most recent median earnings differences by degree, according to race and gender, compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Gender

Associate degree median earnings

Bachelor’s degree median earnings

Master’s degree median earnings

Men

$48,390.

$63,950.

$84,010.

Women

$34,780.

$50,000.

$60,930.

Race

Associate degree median earnings

Bachelor’s degree median earnings

Master’s degree median earnings

Asian

$39,130.

$59,910.

$85,000.

Black

$35,850.

$44,300.

$53,540.

Hispanic

$38,890.

$45,160.

$59,370.

White

$44,500.

$59,600.

$69,560.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics Median annual earnings of full-time year-round workers 25 to 34 years old by sex, race/ethnicity and educational attainment 2019.

Typical entry-level salaries by occupation

The average salary for a new college graduate in 2020 was $55,260, according to a 2021 report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

The College Scorecard lists data for entry level salaries by major. Find your field of study or work below to learn about median earnings.

The median — the middle number in that list of salaries — is generally a more accurate figure to use when comparing salaries, rather than averages. Very high and very low salaries can skew the average.

Resources for researching and comparing salaries

All of the data above is just a taste of what you can learn about majors, occupations and salaries. To find data more specific to your position and location, consider the following tools:

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