What do we value?

What matters to us? What work do we value, and how do we recognise that value? Many metrics are used; job satisfaction surveys, opinion polling, endless Buzzfeed lists, but inevitably it seems we gravitate to that universal measure – remuneration. NPR have posted numbers from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce (based on US Census data) looking at pay rates for graduates by subject.

Majors with the Highest Earnings

What jumps out from the graph is that petroleum engineering majors earn three times the average income of those on the bottom of the payscale, early childhood education graduates.

Says something about our world doesn’t it?

Energy is very important to society and fossil fuels have played a big role in meeting those needs and in our global development, but now we know they come at a huge cost, astronomical public subsidies and the on-going inequity of their continued exorbitant pay isn’t okay. Our teachers, our social workers, our counsellors and community organisers – those who do the jobs that support us all – are surely, surely worth more than the one-third-petroleum-engineer pay they currently receive.

I want to believe a healthy planet with a healthy economy and a healthy society would value those whose work benefits everyone not just a few big oil corporations.


16 Comments Posted

  1. Personally, I work in scientific research in the public sector, certainly an important aspect of society and economics per se. However, often my job is under-valued and only the marketing site carries the upper end of the ‘value’ spectrum in terms of renumeration. That can sometimes be very dis-hartening and demotivating.

  2. t’old lass notes:

    Seems to me we pay IT people … more than most…

    Absolutely. Back before the 1950s, the most important resource of any business was the employees. For many businesses in this century, the single most important resource is ICT, and for many businesses, the business is ICT; take away the ICT and there is no viable business.

    Just imagine what the staffing levels would be like at the IRD without computers, and how much of the collected tax would be spent on pen pushers.

    Bigger picture: ICT has been the key to productivity (country level) improvements in most first world countries, except, of course, New Zealand, where country productivity is glued to dairy.

    We live in the information age. ICT is the information age.

  3. I think this is an oversimplification.

    Anyway. Engineers, technicians, builders and other necessary skilled occupations are also undervalued against people such as Managers of ports of Auckland, that lost their employers 35 million and counting, in an ideological Union busting crusade.
    How did Auckland CC get so many “managers” paid over 200k, for example, while they cannot afford basic services. Or decent wages for the rest of their staff.

    That’s is why we are losing all our competent people overseas. To be replaced by “paid beyound their competence level” “managers” whose only skills are cost cutting and screwing staff and customers.

    I didn’t notice the figures for Lawyers, Accountants and MBA’s in there?

  4. I can see correlation with gender here too. Look up the gender ratios on the top graph and compare with the bottom graph.

  5. Alternatively:
    1) Not many like having to be logical, focused on maths, physics, chemistry – the hard subjects at school
    2) Not many like the 10+ years of dedicated uni work required to achieve the higher paying degrees
    3) Not many like the hours involved
    4) Not many like the uncertainty in getting an actual job – they aren’t that common

  6. I gather those are US rates? Seems to me we pay IT people who sell programmes more than most, plus some council officers and CEO’s.

    I think Gareth is pointing out that those who work for the good of humanity on the whole, earn less than those who work to produce monetary profit for shareholders and their ilk.

  7. He’s pointing out if money is a measure of value then the most important jobs are valued the least. yes, there are high risks involved in engineering and the public can be put at risk, yes, he who wears the tie can be hanged. But where we fail is where we marginalise art, education and humanities and make it accessible only to the rich. What is quality of life if we have no culture.

  8. Sorry, and social fabric. I think Gareth has presented some key flaws in where our values lie. Good blog post thanks.

  9. The length of training for the degrees in question might also affect the remuneration.

    And aren’t petroleum engineers at the forefront of plastics research and lubricants?


  10. Gee I wonder why the Meridian Asset sales weren’t as high as expected…Perhaps it’s because of the petroleum industry are full steam ahead and there is little investment in electric infrastructure..Duh

  11. Given the absence of merchant bankers and stock brokers, I would suggest the data here are a sandwich short of a picnic

  12. dbuckley, I think that is one aspect but there are many reason why early childhood teachers aren’t paid well:
    -Most ECE teachers are female and there is a clear bias against occupations that are mainly female. This was being addressed and the gap between men and women was closing until this Government got elected and it is getting worse again.
    -Caring jobs are given little value (partly again because they are seen as jobs for women) which surely must reflect the kind of society we live in; having the highest levels of child abuse in the OECD. In Finland teachers are regarded as more elite than doctors.
    -Most ECE centres are private businesses and like the rest home industry they attract custom by spending most money on buildings and maximise profits by keeping wages low.
    -wealth acquisition has become more important than caring for people which has contributed to bankers earning huge salaries and carers very little. The NZ CEOs of the big four Australian banks earn $15 million a year between them http://www.interest.co.nz/news/56716/ceos-countrys-four-big-banks-get-a117-mln-nz153-mln-combined-annual-pay-31-fixed-pay-and-

    Also people who work just to earn money often don’t care how they earn it and will take every opportunity to work the system for their own benefit. Those who work to make a positive difference are easily manipulated by those with a profit focussed mentality, which is why education and caring jobs should be state funded so that those that work in these areas cannot be unfairly exploited.

  13. And who is the major employer (in part or full ) of Childhood educators?

    Correct me if I am genuinely wrong, but isn’t it the government?

    And not just the present one.

    It’s not as if the educators, in the main, don’t value themselves.

    Oh, and most of them are female. Same old problem…sighhh

  14. The problem, Gareth, dear boy, is not that society values early childhood education majors less than petroleum engineers, it is that those who become early childhood education majors value themselves inadequately.

    If one is willing to trade ones hard learned skills for just $40K, then one will find employers willing to pay, well, $40K. A nuclear engineer simply wont work for $40K. Ergo, if you want nuclear engineers, you have to be prepared to pay what they are prepared to work for.

    (Actually, a nuclear engineer might well be willing to work for $40K (or even less), but not doing nuclear engineering)

  15. Things is, it’s not how we’re valuing them but how the capitalists are valuing them. The capitalists value higher those things that will make them richer and value lower those things which will cost them more. Paying teachers more requires higher taxes.

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