Are PhDs and Doctorates worth it?

With almost 50% of people dropping out of studying PhDs, it is worth pondering if spending 4 to 6 years on a PhD or Doctorate is worth the time and financial sacrifice. While the intellectual and academic challenge is bound to be exciting, more prosaic aspects such as return on investment are also key in making that decision.

We analysed 23,866 salaries from professionals globally with 5 to 9 years of post-degree professional experience. We have found that PhDs pay 40% more than Bachelors degrees but face serious competition from MBAs. In certain majors, such as the Arts or Humanities, a PhD doesn't work out financially. For others however, such as mathematics & statistics or computer science, the impact on earnings is tremendous.


Degree Annual Salary
MBAs 63,000
PhDs 62,000
Masters 52,000
Bachelors 44,000

PhDs Vs MBAs

Overall, a PhD boosts earnings by 20% versus a Masters, and 40% versus a Bachelor's degree, a clear and substantial reward for the extra years of studies. However, MBAs can be as beneficial to salaries as PhDs: despite costing more, MBAs are much shorter (1-2 years compared to 4-6 for a PhD). Studying for an MBA allow graduates to start paying off their investment and kickoff their careers much earlier than PhD graduates.


Major Bachelors Masters PhDs & Doctorates
Architecture 37,000 42,000 -
Chemistry & Natural Sciences 41,000 46,000 46,000
Computer Sciences 42,000 51,000 62,000
Economics 67,000 70,000 79,000
Education 29,000 39,000 -
Engineering 44,000 49,000 61,000
English Literature 35,000 41,000 -
Fine Arts & Design 31,000 33,000 -
Humanities (History, Geography, Politics...) 43,000 44,000 40,000
Law 47,000 60,000 86,000
Management & Strategy 42,000 52,000 65,000
Mathematics & Statistics 60,000 75,000 112,000
Media, Marketing & Communication 36,000 40,000 -
Modern Languages 41,000 44,000 -
Philosophy 42,000 61,000 -
Physics, Life Sciences & Healthcare 36,000 46,000 50,000
Psychology 37,000 36,000 53,000
Purchasing & Supply Chain 36,000 41,000 -

Technical PhDs

A rare commodity: PhDs in mathematics and statistics earn twice as much as holders of a Bachelor degree: 78% of PhDs in this discipline work in the financial and consulting industries. Similarly, over 70% of computer science PhDs work in finance or the technology industry. In such highly technical environments, PhDs are in high demand and command larger paychecks as they are likely to develop new products and perform when trading complex instruments.

Humanities, the poor relative

In humanities Bachelors, Masters and PhD graduates are all paid the same. With 50% of humanities PhD graduates working in the public sector as Professors or Lecturers, compared to only 23% for Masters, graduates do not see a return on investment on their high-level degree.

Is it worth it to you?

While many would thrive on remaining in academia for longer by pursuing a PhD degree, few are prepared or able to make the financial sacrifice it represents. Our study shows that there are two very different paths when it comes to PhD graduates' return on investment: on the one hand technical subjects can open doors in the top-end of the finance industry, and on the other a more academic humanities-related degree is unlikely to lead to an uptick in pay. With this knowledge in hand, the relevant question is: 'Is it worth it to you?


Emolument provides bonus and salary statistics based on data submitted directly by professionals like you. It is free, anonymous, and already a trusted tool for thousands of professionals worldwide. Are you paid enough? Click here to find out now.

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