MBA-filter: are there any recent studies about the impact of earning an MBA on career success?
September 1, 2009 8:37 AM   Subscribe

MBA-filter: are there any recent studies about the impact of earning an MBA on career success?

I'm looking for information on whether or not earning an MBA increases job prospects, career success, career satisfaction, and lifetime earnings.

I've been able to find a detailed academic journal paper from 1995 by Pfeffer and Fong, but I'm looking for more recent data. Anyone know of similar studies done within the last five years?

Help is greatly appreciated!
posted by kaufmajm to Education (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not exactly what you're looking for, but just an anecdotal note; if you're of an entrepreneurial bent, know that many high-level entrepreneurs I know (and I know a bunch) consider people with MBAs to be a commodity to be hired on to do less creative, less visionary grind work. Sort of like lawyers. It'd be wrong to say that no successful entrepreneurs have MBAs, but many do not...and they hire MBAs the way they hire lawyers - to fill in with their specialized know-how.

If you're not entrepreneurial, and looking to be hired per above, understand that employability (and salary potential) has everything to do with economic climate, and I'm not sure studies will reflect that. MBAs become hotter commodities when business heats up. Which is not to say there are no jobs for them in a recession, of course.

In addition to that issue, I'm not sure studies would be super relevant, because you'd have to wonder what they'd compare MBA earners' prospects to. The general population at large? That'd be kind of fuzzy and not very helpful to you. In realms where an MBA is valued, an MBA surely helps, but that's obviously obvious....
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:15 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The answer to your question really depends on what your career goals are. If you want to be an investment banker or a management consultant, an MBA is pretty much required. For other endeavors, such as entrepreneurship, not so much.

I'm not aware of any paper that answers the question, however, I have heard anecdotes about people questioning the inherent value of an MBA; that said, anecdotes are not data.
posted by dfriedman at 9:22 AM on September 1, 2009

The answer depends upon whether the field you're in requires an MBA for advancement. If so, then you'll find a positive correlation. If not, then the correlation will be flat or negative, most likely.
posted by reenum at 9:31 AM on September 1, 2009

Good answers, but it still boils down to "In realms where an MBA is valued, an MBA surely helps." (LOL)
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:37 AM on September 1, 2009

Thanks to everyone who responded so far! To clarify: I'm not evaluating whether or not an MBA is a good career decision for me. I'm an entrepreneurial guy, and I've been running a project to help people educate themselves about business for a long time now.

I'm doing research for a related project I'm working on, and I want any recommendations I make to be supported by facts and data as much as possible vs. my own personal opinion or anecdotes. Any help is greatly appreciated!
posted by kaufmajm at 9:43 AM on September 1, 2009

Thanks for clarifying.

Again, per my last line, what data sets would you want to see compared? I can't imagine how a study could yield meaningful data, unless it was very narrowly drawn.....and if it's narrowly drawn, it's obvious(?) that an MBA would be more valuable in positions requiring/favoring MBAs.

To a dog catcher or graphic designer or sports reporter, an MBA would likely have no least if you factor out the additional intelligence and resourcefulness you'd expect in someone hustling for a higher degree.

So if a comparison study was done of, say, bankers, the study would have to be restricted to positions for which an MBA is optional, and would need to do some pretty complex analysis to compensate for the fact that some people in the study would go on to hold positions for which MBA is prerequisite.

I'm just scratching at the problems......but without massive blustery fudging (MBF), I'm not sure anything meaningful-sounding could come out of such a study. But I could be wrong.

The reason I'm pointing this out is that if you can think through this impasse, maybe it might help you clarify exactly what sort of numbers you're looking for....and make it easier to then ferret out what you need. If this is totally unhelpful, sorry, just ignore me! :)
posted by jimmyjimjim at 11:53 AM on September 1, 2009

Have you already tried a search through Google Scholar? The paper you mention was cited 404 times, so one approach is to examine the papers citing the 1995 paper, but limit it to recent ones.

Anyway some papers that come up through Google Scholar, I don't know if they're in the ballpark:

Hay, A. Hodgkinson, M. (2006). Exploring MBA career success. Career Development International, 11(2), 108-124.

Arcidiacono, Peter, Cooley, Jane and Hussey, Andrew C. The Economic Returns to an MBA. International Economic Review, Vol. 49, Issue 3, pp. 873-899, August 2008.
posted by needled at 1:03 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

needled - hadn't thought of this approach. Combing through Google Scholar citations now - thanks for the recommendation!
posted by kaufmajm at 1:39 PM on September 1, 2009

jimmyjimjim - since people either get an MBA or they don't, so I'm less worried about dog catchers, who probably never bother. You're right that for banking / consulting / Fortune 50 fast-track, an MBA is required, so segmentation is tricky.

I'm more interested in evaluating the truth of expressed / implied benefits of an MBA degree via studying the following measures among MBA graduates: (1) higher lifetime earnings; (2) accelerated career advancement; (3) greater reported job satisfaction. Aggregate research is fine for this purpose.
posted by kaufmajm at 1:45 PM on September 1, 2009

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