No one studies fine arts expecting to become a billionaire. But new data released
by the U.K. Department of Education suggests that young people with creative arts and design majors face the lowest median earnings across all disciplines. The data resurfaces questions about who can afford to study these subjects and what, if any, social mobility is provided by a creative arts education in the United Kingdom and beyond.
Using tax data, the report looks at the median earnings of alumni from the country’s universities, organized by major. Five years post-graduation, that figure for those who studied creative arts (which includes design, fine arts, drama, creative writing, and similar subjects) was roughly £20,000—dead last among the measured 23 subject areas. Creative arts came in just below agriculture, with medicine and dentistry graduates up top (with a median income of just over £45,000). Education majors, earning a median of just under £25,000, fell in the middle of the pack.
So is this overall picture going to surprise observers? “No, is the short answer,” said Dr. Dave O’Brien, chancellor’s fellow in cultural and creative industries at the University of Edinburgh. But that doesn’t make the earnings numbers heartening. “Given the kind of rhetoric around the creative economy, and the things arts grads are meant to add to the economy and society, it is disappointing news,” O’Brien added.
While broadly in line with other findings about the earning power of creative arts and design degrees, the newly released data has several meaningful limitations. For one, it doesn’t provide a full picture of the economics of the creative sector, which employs those who didn’t major in creative arts. “We know from other work that the relationship between studying a creative subject and having a creative job is actually quite weak,” said O’Brien.