Greetings from Mid Michigan! And welcome to my inaugural blog entry. To specialize or not to specialize? This is a question many young professionals ponder. Some in academia have mulled over this issue. I recently came across a 2008 working paper from Professor Ofer Malamud from the University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy that deals with this topic. The paper discusses the effect of early vs. late specialization (with regard to wages) for English and Scottish undergraduates in 1980.
In the paper, specialization was defined in terms of the number of courses taken in a given field. Early specialization refers to a student deciding on a field and taking courses strongly associated with that field: while late specialization meant a student would take courses in multiple fields before deciding on one. The author extended his analysis to occupation switches soon after graduation. The author used empirical data and statistical modeling. Here are some findings:
- The wages an individual earns after graduation is linked to his/her skill and match with a given field.
- Individuals who chose their fields later are expected to have less specific skills but a better match; thus their wage would depend on the balance of the value of their skills vs. their match with their chosen field.
- Individuals who switch to an occupation unrelated to their field of training earn lower wages at first (compared to those who did not switch) but make up the difference in about 6 years.
Some of the author's findings are intuitive and would apply to young professionals. If one switches to an unrelated field, he/she would be entering that field as a trainee and would not be expected to earn the maximum wage in that field. However, I found the difference between the rates of wage increase (faster wage growth for those who switched) interesting.
Was it because, as one gets more specialized, the competition from similarly gifted colleagues makes it more difficult to stand out and get noticed? I would favor the side of some career switching (dependent on each person's unique circumstances).
What are your thoughts on this subject?
Do you feel that finding a specialization later in one's career is better? Or Earlier? Do you have any personal experiences related to this topic?