by Alyssa Cohen ’21
Our present capitalist economic structure has created an equation of money with success and personal value within our society. In order to achieve the respect of our neighbors in today’s culture, we must earn a large paycheck.
In turn, contemporary parents, generally, have deemphasized the importance of being kind and of teaching empathy to their children. Instead, they highlight the importance of outperforming their peers, which corresponds with our societal infatuation with money—as it proves to be the most concrete measurement of achievement.
According to a Harvard Study reported by The Boston Globe, nearly 80 percent of young people picked high achievement as more important to them than caring for others, a phenomenon clearly correlated with parental value teachings.
To that end, since the majority of careers an individual can pursue that guarantee a high salary in today’s culture lie in the STEM and business fields, even an individual who lacks the appropriate skill set for these fields or an interest in the content involved in these careers will force him or herself to pursue a STEM or business degree to ensure a large income.
This is directly reflected in the Providence College student body. Given the institution’s liberal arts identity, presumably, liberal arts majors would constitute the majority of the student body.
In actuality, they only comprise approximately 30 percent of the student body—the remaining students pursue degrees in either business and STEM.
This statistic highlights a significant social trend away from studies in the humanities, which may be attributed to a social conflation of money with achievement and success.
According to the New York Times article, “Job Satisfaction vs. a Big Paycheck,” “People who sought high incomes were more likely to major in things like business, engineering and economics, while people for whom high income was not paramount gravitated toward the liberal arts and social sciences.”
This phenomenon can be attributed to the stigma society impresses upon those pursuing a degree in the arts, humanities, and even those who develop a trade rather than attend a university.
As careers in the aforementioned fields tend to have more inconsistent lucrativity, financing an undergraduate degree in such fields is frequently deemed to be municipally irresponsible.
Madison Gilmore ’21 describes the societal stigma she has noted in respect to the field of social work—a career renowned for being, “overworked and underpaid.”
“As someone who has considered pursuing a career in social work—I believe it would be a field where I could achieve fulfillment in directly bettering society—I have strived to sustain a cognizance of the career’s reputation,” said Gilmore.
“More times than not, I hear criticism of this profession and those pursuing a degree in social work, as it requires extensive study, yet fails to produce a large paycheck.
This societal disrespect of social work is disheartening as the profession proves crucial to ensuring the well-being of children in our society, and while its reputation for being “low-paying” would never deter me personally from entering such a career, I can understand how it may divert some students from achieving a degree in social work who could be valuable to the field.”
To that end, I believe this current societal tendency of college-age students to pursue a degree that they are either unequipped for or uninterested, exclusively for the sake of a larger paycheck, has lended to the deteriorating mental health of young adults in America.
A student must invest innumerable hours in achieving an undergraduate degree which, in many cases, ultimately leads to a lifetime in a related career. The devotion of such a significant amount of time to something one finds unstimulating, incomprehensible, or unfulfilling will presumably lend to a wide array of mental disturbances.
With such a strong societal emphasis on the profitability of an undergraduate degree, the purpose of higher education has shifted from its original focus on expanding an individual’s understanding of the world they live in to free them from ignorance to merely a means of increasing the number on a paycheck.
The strong prudential influence on a student’s choice of major has proven detrimental to our society because if more individuals studied the field they were most passionate about rather than the one most lucrative, people would be more fulfilled by their careers, which, consequently, would improve the productivity and expertise of Americans in their fields of work.
Changing the societal perspective of the qualifiers of achievement will require major systemic reform, including more affordable education and the correction of society’s displaced conflation of money and success.
However, if every American could pursue a career that incorporated one of their passions, the results would undoubtedly prove extraordinary.