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The Connection Between High School Math and Income

High school is an important educational period in most people’s lives. The education we learn in high school can determine whether we attend college, go straight to work or choose some other path. I have argued that financial education should be a part of public school education, but many studies and reports reveal that courses that are already a part of most high school curriculum have the potential to determine a person’s income later in life.

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Math classes are an integral part of most high school student’s lives, but the types of math courses one takes could point to a higher potential income ten years post-high school.

The Theoretical Approach

There are a number of different theories explaining the correlation between certain types of math courses and income. Two of the main ones are the human capital theory and the signaling model.

The human capital theory asserts the skills learned in these high school math courses are vital to creating productive employees. Thus these productive employees will see better financial rewards in the labor market. Under this theory it is believed that these math courses develop the skills of reasoning, analyzing, and problem solving. These critical thinking skills are necessary in a number of different professional careers, regardless if math is a major part of these fields. Furthermore, the belief behind this theory also states that math teaches people how to learn as opposed to just rote memorization. Understanding how to learn is critical for solving problems in so many fields.

The second theory, the signaling theory, proclaims it’s not the high school math courses that teach the students these vital skills. On the contrary, this theory is based in the belief that the more capable students, those who already possess critical thinking skills, are more likely to take these courses. Thus, the math course did not create the potential for higher income. Rather it was the individual student’s mental abilities that led them to take these high school math classes.

While both the human capital and signaling theories are just that—theories, it is important to note that not just any high school math classes are correlated with higher earnings potential.

Classes to Take

The high school math courses that were closely correlated with higher income levels were those that fell into the algebra and geometry categories. Even when studies control for factors such as demography, family, school characteristics, etc. the results came out the same.

Students who took algebra, geometry, and higher level math courses in high school were more likely to have higher incomes ten years later. Education researchers find this correlation important in helping to understand how to prepare lower-income students for better financial futures.

Securing a Bright Financial Future

But one cannot simply insist on students taking algebra and geometry. By the time many students in lower income schools and communities reach high school there is already a major gap between their actual grade level and their level of mathematical abilities. This can make it difficult for the kids to ever take the high level math classes.  In turn, they are not prepared for the higher income work.

Education is important at all levels, but there is a very specific correlation between high school math classes and potential income. Whether it is the math courses that teach much needed critical thinking skills or it is the already accomplished critical thinking skills of the student that leads them to these courses, there is no denying the connection between courses taken and income. For those looking to ensure your children or future children will have a better shot at a higher income, start developing those math skills as early as possible.

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Tiffany Patterson Tiffany Patterson has a BA in Political Science from Temple University and an MBA from La Salle University Business School with a concentration in Finance. She is an expert on topics including home buying, life insurance and credit cards. She believes how we treat our finances can have a lasting impact on our lives for years to come. Tiffany loves researching and writing on topics that will help readers lead better lives.
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