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Want a high-paying job in your field? Study engineering or nursing, says the census

Bachelor degrees that get the highest salaries: census
WATCH: Bachelor degrees that get the highest salaries: census.

Young Canadians graduating with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, nursing and related technology and health care fields were very likely to get a job in their field, and a good paycheque to go with it, according to the 2016 census.

Census results released Wednesday looked into whether people with bachelor degrees found work in their fields, and how much they made. Statistics Canada found that about 85 per cent of graduates aged 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree in surveying engineering and geological engineering, who got their degree in Canada, were working in that field.

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Similarly, 95 per cent of people who studied nursing were working in health care – something that Statistics Canada attributes to the demand for health skills in an aging society.

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Engineers aged 25 to 34 were making a median salary of $77,627, according to Statistics Canada – with women making about 96 per cent of what men earned. This was the highest-earning field.

Nurses in that age group were not far behind, making a median salary of $75,245. Women, who make up the majority of nurses, made 96.6 per cent of what men earned in that field and age group.

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There are only a few fields in which men earned less than women in this study, said Karen Mihorean, director general of Statistics Canada’s education, labour and income statistics branch. The median income of optometrists, chiropractors, librarians and security guards and related security occupations is higher for women.

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But Mihorean cautions that the census numbers might be too broad to draw too many conclusions about gender and salary. “You need to look at hours worked. If you work part-time. If male nurses take on a lot of extra shifts, for example, relative to women,” she said. “Those things aren’t there, so you need to be careful when you make those comparisons to say men generally make more than women.”

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If women took maternity or other kinds of leave, this could have had them report less income in the census that year, which could have affected their overall income numbers, she said.

The Statistics Canada study excluded bachelor degree holders in law and pharmacy because these fields typically require previous university education prior to study.

Arts and humanities

But what about other fields? Most university graduates hold a bachelor’s degree in business or administration, social and behavioural sciences or arts and humanities.

It depends on the field: education degree holders are very likely to work in education. About 66 per cent of business degree holders work in business, management, sales or manufacturing.

READ MORE: The cheapest and most expensive degree programs in Canada: StatsCan

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Part of the problem is it’s harder to say whether someone with a broadly-applicable degree in arts or humanities found work in their field. “We know that people studying arts, humanities, whatever, they have those critical thinking type skills. So they can go into a number of occupations,” said Mihorean. “But we also know from other sources of data that they often, people in those fields of study often go on to other levels or other fields of study as well.”

One-third of humanities graduates had completed another program at university, college or in the trades, according to Statistics Canada.

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However, whether or not they’re working in their field, arts and humanities graduates are taking home less money.

Arts graduates earned a median salary of $42,119 and humanities graduates earned $47,586 among people aged 25 to 34. That means an average arts graduate is making $35,508 less than a typical engineer in the first few years of their careers.

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Arts and humanities graduates are also more likely to be overqualified – working in a job that typically only requires a high school education, even though they have a university degree. Nearly a third of humanities graduates are overqualified, according to Statistics Canada. Only two per cent of nursing graduates are.

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Mihorean doesn’t think that humanities graduates necessarily remain in a position for which they’re overqualified though. “We do know that over time, they will move into other occupations.” She’s not sure why it takes longer for these graduates to find work that uses their degree.

She wouldn’t suggest that Canadian universities should only graduate nurses and engineers either. “It’s important I think to Canadian society too that we have not just the science, technology, engineering, math graduates,” she said. “To have a balanced society, we need graduates in all disciplines including arts and humanities.”