Can Money Buy Happiness?

A few weeks ago I wrote about my generation of women’s sense of self-worth and “can-do” attitude but it also bought to light the reality that, even today, there is still a wage discrepancy between women and men. This morning I came across an interesting article on NPR by Lisa Chow entitled “Why Women (Like Me) Choose Lower-Paying Jobs.” This article gave me a whole different insight into the very same problem and resonated a lot with my own life. During her recent interview with an economist who studies how people’s choice of college major effects their income he revealed that, “women often make decisions that lead them to earn less than they otherwise might.” It is no secret that there are some majors/areas of study that just won’t produce the same income levels as other majors might. Most people going into these majors know this, but they chose to do it anyway. The article also had some helpful graphs with it, showing the percentage of degree holders in certain areas of study that are women. Some of the “least lucrative” major areas are Early Childhood Education in which 97% are women, Communication Disorders Sciences that tallied at 94%, Social Work which contains 88% women, and Human Services/Community Org which came in at 81%. The “most lucrative” majors shouldn’t come as a surprise- Pharmacy Sciences/Administration won with the most women degree holders at 52%, Mathematics/Computer Science came in second at 33%, Chemical Engineering was next at 28%, and Metallurgical Engineering (huh?) contains 17%. In last place, Naval Architecture/Marine Engineering degree holders are only 3% female.

The economist from Georgetown University also pointed out that women’s choice of major isn’t the only problem, the jobs they chose once they graduate is another major factor in their income. He gives the example that most women who major in Math end up in professions such as teaching. Lisa, the author of this article, admits that she is one of these women. She majored in Applied Math, got her MBA, and is now a reporter for NPR. Awesome, right? But can she be making a lot more money? Certainly. As much $3-4 MILLION more! Lisa also tells the story of Rhea, a college career counselor. Rhea holds a degree in accounting and started her career in the corporate sector. Her boss offered her the opportunity to become a director but she turned it down. She was 5 months pregnant and there were more important things going on in her life at that moment. Eventually, she left the business world and ended up in the career path she is today.

This definitely raised a lot  of questions in my mind. What’s more important- money or happiness? Family or work? Of course, the answer is different for everyone. You may be a woman who loves engineering and who may or may not want children, so a job in your chosen field will give you both money and happiness. But, that isn’t me. I went to a top-ranked women’s liberal art college, I could have easily chosen a science major or a pre-med program. My school is known for their awesome science department- it’s prestige and intensity. Instead, I chose to double major in English and History. Why you may ask? The one science class I took in college (Astronomy) I absolutely dreaded. Every few minutes I found myself glancing at the clock and every time Wednesday night rolled around (lab day) I let out a long sigh. I couldn’t imagine spending any more time in a science/math related class than I had to in order to graduate. I wasn’t intellectually stimulated and I just wasn’t happy. To me, happiness is the most important thing in life. You only have one life to live- so why not be happy? Reading makes me happy. Learning about new literary geniuses and exploring new genres intrigues me. American history calls out to me and begs for me to learn more about it. This is where I am happy and this is where I feel most like myself.

What’s the income pay-off for my four years of a priceless education? Not very much (at least not yet). But, everyday I go to work happy. I enjoy what I do, I have a source of income, and I am constantly learning new things and growing in ways I didn’t even know I needed. My chosen career path is somewhat flexible and family-friendly. I have so many options to chose from when I decide to have kids including staying home, or even possibly working from home. I’m not sure that this is even what I want, I’m not sure what I want yet but I’m glad to know that flexibility is there. My happiness and my future family is what is important to me and that’s why I am where I am today. Yes, women in higher-paying fields have families too but those subject areas don’t make me happy. Yes, women who work a lot with very little flexibility have great families too, but that’s not what I want. I’m doing what’s right for me and I shouldn’t worry about being another statistic. I am a more confident woman because of the choices I made. I am more confident in my skill set required for my job and my ability to make an impact in my field. I feel like I belong here and the number on my pay check can’t tell me differently (…but maybe my bills can).

I’m not trying to say that gender wage inequality within job fields themselves doesn’t exist or isn’t important. What I am suggesting is that you should determine what you want from your life, what interests you, what makes you happy before you point any fingers at anyone else. Despite all the challenges that still face women- I am happy where I am and let me tell you, it feels really good.

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