As you explore mathematical science degree options, you might wonder if you would be better off majoring in math or in statistics. There is some overlap between these two related programs of study and the careers they will prepare you for. However, there are also significant differences, particularly in earning potential, a greater percentage of employment with the federal government and more versatility in the field of mathematics careers.
$20,000 Salary Difference
A degree in any mathematical field offers considerable earning potential. Statisticians earn a median salary of $84,060 per year, more than twice the $37,690 median wage for all occupations, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. However, mathematicians enjoy a median wage almost $20,000 higher than statisticians, at $103,010.
The wage variances are more drastic among mathematicians than statisticians. The best-paid mathematicians work in management, scientific and technical consulting services, with a median wage of $120,840, and in research and development, with a median salary of $119,500. On the other end of the wage spectrum are mathematicians working in colleges and universities, where the median salary is only $56,320, the BLS reported.
Statisticians see a much narrower gap between the highest paid and lowest paid professionals. The least lucrative statistician careers, again in colleges and universities, still pay a median salary of $70,780. However, earning potential for the most lucrative statistician jobs is significantly lower, with statisticians who work for the federal government enjoying a median wage of $103,630.
Because statisticians far outnumber mathematicians, the overall median wage for mathematical science occupations mirrors that of statisticians, at $84,060.
Higher Likelihood of Getting a Government Job
There are many benefits of working in the public sector. Government jobs can be very fulfilling, offering job security, meaningful work opportunities and excellent benefits. In the mathematical science occupations, they can also be financially rewarding, offering median salaries well above the overall median wage for the career path.
A greater proportion of mathematicians are employed by the federal government than statisticians are. Though the federal government is the best paying industry for statisticians, only 13 percent of the occupation works for government entities. More than one-third of all mathematicians work for the government, where the median wage is $111,990.
Where else do mathematicians and statisticians work? Of the 3,100 mathematicians working in the United States, 17 percent work in research and development and 16 percent work in colleges and universities. Another eight percent of mathematicians work in finance and insurance, while seven percent work in management, scientific and technical consulting services. In addition to working for the federal government, the 37,200 statisticians in America work in research and development (11 percent), insurance carriers (nine percent), healthcare and social assistance (eight percent) and colleges and universities (eight percent).
Another benefit of working for the federal government is that the education requirements are more lenient than in other industries. While most mathematician and statistician roles require a master’s degree, government jobs often require just a bachelor’s degree, the BLS reported.
Mathematical science includes many different fields of study, and statistics represents just one branch of the discipline. For students who are having trouble deciding between a major in mathematics and statistics, or another mathematical science major or specialization, choosing a broader math major can be beneficial. The curriculum of a math degree program usually includes studies in linear algebra, abstract algebra, differential equations and calculus, the BLS reported. Students often take complementary coursework in computer science, physics, statistics and other subjects.
Choosing a math degree over a statistics degree doesn’t mean that you can’t gain specialized knowledge. Math majors can often pursue specializations such as business mathematics, operations research, applied mathematics and mathematics education. At the graduate level of study – which most math students will ultimately reach, since most mathematician and statistician jobs require a master’s degree – you can decide whether theoretical or applied mathematics is more appealing to you. You could also choose to go to graduate school for statistics with a general mathematics undergraduate degree, whereas making the switch from an undergraduate statistics education to a degree in theoretical mathematics might be less straightforward.
Some colleges offer double major options in mathematics and statistics, which can prepare students for a master’s degree program in either field of study.