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College majors around the world, in 6 maps

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

What students study in college is related to how much money they make, their unemployment rates after graduation, and maybe even how satisfied they are with their jobs. But the popularity of different majors varies a lot by country. Reddit user Bezbojnicul put together a set of maps with data from Eurostat to compare majors in Europe, the US, and Japan. Here's what they show:

The US, UK, and Japan have the highest proportion of humanities majors



The crisis of the humanities — the fear that enrollments and relevance in humanities majors are dwindling — is a common lament in American higher education. But it turns out that studying the humanities remains more popular in the US, Japan and the United Kingdom than in most of Europe. Britain leads the pack, with 16 percent of their students studying language, literature, art, philosophy, religion, and similar subjects.

Business and social science majors are popular everywhere, particularly in Turkey

social sciences major map


This is kind of a weird way to group majors, since business — at least in the US — is the runaway winner of any major popularity contest. But business and social science combined are even more popular in Europe than they are in the US, particularly in Turkey.

Greece and Germany lead the pack on science, computer science, and math majors

science and math major map


This is the chart that gives policymakers a headache — American students are much less likely to study math and hard sciences than students elsewhere. The proportion of students studying science and computer science is lower than it is in the UK, Germany, France, Greece, Spain, and many other countries. (On the other hand, lots of students studying math doesn't appear to have saved the Greek economy.)

Interestingly, Japan, known for its students' superior math performance, produces a smaller share of math majors than any other country on the map.

Finland is producing a lot of future engineers

engineering majors


But Japan is far ahead of the US when it comes to majoring in engineering, manufacturing, and construction. So is almost every other country. In Finland, more than one-third of college students are majoring in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In the US, it's just about 15 percent.

Health majors are more common in more developed economies

health care majors map


In the US, people who graduated in 2008 and majored in health care fields have the lowest unemployment rates. And the US is producing a slightly lower proportion of health care and welfare-related majors (such as social workers) than western Europe, but higher than most eastern European countries.

Agriculture majors are really rare

agriculture majors


This isn't a particularly interesting map for international comparisons — agriculture and veterinary majors are rare everywhere — but it is interesting when you consider the history of higher education in the US. Sixty-nine US colleges, including some of the biggest and most prestigious, were founded under the Morrill Act, a 1862 law that set up colleges "for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts." But since at least 1970, as this graphic from NPR's Planet Money shows, agriculture majors have been a tiny fraction of US college students. Things have changed a lot since 1862.

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