Just a few nights ago, during our family dinner, the topic of the eighth-grade social order arose. It seems my 13-year-old twins, Jay and Becky, have a pretty clear understanding of where they (and all of their classmates) stand in the pecking order.

Becky said she resides somewhere in the middle —abercrombie jeans and Ugg boots are clear plusses, but being in the advanced math group lowers her overall score. Jay said he’s on “the lower end” and Becky did nothing to dispute this or buttress her twin.

Jay has been known as a “math geek” since second grade. He is a terrible dresser, combs his hair once a month (whether it needs it or not), plays competitive chess and piano for the jazz band, is two grades ahead in math (where he is the top student, definitely a social blunder), and programs his calculator for fun. Apparently all that’s keeping him from plummeting to the very bottom of the social heap are decent soccer skills and some talent in track.

Fortunately, I was armed with information from a timely Wall Street Journal piece called Doing the Math to Find Good Jobs, published the very day of our family discussion. The Journal reported that the best job in the U.S. is … (drum roll, please) … mathematician! In even more good news, two closely related fields came in second and third – actuary and statistician. These standings are based in part on favorable working conditions – an indoor environment free of toxic fumes, with no heavy lifting required. The quantitative sciences also score high in terms of pay, low stress levels (really?) and a good work-life balance.

I was able to reassure my “math geek” son that though it may seem like he’s on the bottom social rung of eighth grade, with hard work and a little luck, his skills and talents will give him a quick elevator ride to the top of the job stratum as an adult. As Bill Gates once said: “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.” He should know.


Let this reassure you as well, my analytical friends, and revel in your career choice!


My best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and prosperous 2009


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One Response to “Family Dinner Conversation”

  1. Benjamin

    As a former officer of the Association for Applied and Clinical* Sociology, I would like to point out that two other related fields also rated very high: sociologist (8) and economist (11).

    My interpretation of these data is that the broad area of analytic work in both applied and non-applied settings and that advanced mathematic and quantitative* skills are in 12 of the top 15 jobs listed. Only history, philosophy, and parole officer do not require advanced mathematic or quantitative skills (and this is only partially true of history and philosophy).

    * Quantitative skills are also necessary to undertake qualitative analyses.


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