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What Did Chicagoans Major in When They Were in College?

The number-one major might not be surprising, but perhaps its dominance is. Farther down the list, though, artists make a strong showing.

University of Chicago econ professors Emir Kamenica and Alex Frankel discuss the economics of suspense, Wednesday, June 3, 2015.   Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune

It’s a good time for journalists when the American Community Survey releases its rich survey data of who we are and what we do. There’s so much, and so many ways to approach it. At WBEZ, Shannon Heffernan and Chris Hagan broke down some good news about incomes and bad news about inequality as they changed from 2014 to 2015. In the Tribune, Marwa Eltagouri pointed out how Illinois will soon be a majority-minority state, at least for children. Yonah Freemark looked at changes in how people are getting to work (less driving, more public transit in Chicago over the past decade).

Some of the data is grave—incomes, poverty, housing. Some of it’s just intriguing. One of the more interesting subjects the Census Bureau asks about is everyone’s favorite question from college: “So, what’s your major?”

Here’s how Chicago answered.

How this changed from 2014 to 2015 reminded me of what I’d seen when I was curious how millennials were affording all the pricey new apartment buildings going up in the city—from 2009 to 2014, the No. 1 job for 25-34 year olds who rented and made $68,000 or more had changed from “lawyers/judges” to “management analysts.”

And the biggest change in majors from 2014 to 2015 was the sort of thing you major in if you want to be a management analyst.

That’s a lot of new business majors—twice as many as engineers. And fewer lit majors like me. But there is a bit of a surprise: a considerable jump in the visual and performing arts, the best-represented among liberal arts majors in the city, perhaps taking advantage of the fact that, despite all the fancy new apartments, Chicago’s still a pretty affordable big city.

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