More Math = Higher Wages + Lower Unemployment, says Cleveland Fed study

Do the particular courses students take in high school matter for their future job prospects? The answer appears to be yes, at least when it comes to math.

According to Jon James, a former researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, people who took more math courses in high school have higher wages, on average, and are less likely to be unemployed than people with the same level of education, but less math. And James says a more rigorous math curriculum seems to benefit even those who do not go to college.

According to James, taking more advanced math courses in high school not only increases one's chances of completing high school, it also increases the chances of attending and completing college. In addition, the more math one takes, the more one earns, on average, and the more likely one is to have a job. But what may be surprising is that this is true even for high school dropouts.

James says the median wage for full-time workers aged 20-30 who dropped out of high school after completing only Algebra I or less, is $12.70 per hour, and the unemployment rate for those workers is 33 percent. But dropouts who completed geometry or Algebra II have a significantly higher median wage of $14.36 per hour, and their unemployment rate is lower at 27 percent. James says a similar pattern exists for those who graduated high school but did not attend college.

James notes that the percentage of high school graduates who have completed Algebra II or higher has risen significantly, from 39 percent in 1982 to 75 percent in 2009. He attributes this increase to more rigorous math requirements for high school students, which he calls “a step in the right direction.”

Read The Surprising Impact of High School Math on Job Market Outcomes