[A]rt history isn’t a major naive kids fall into because they’ve heard a college degree — any college degree — will get you a good job... [I]t’s famously elitist.... It’s stereotypically a field for prep school graduates, especially women, with plenty of family wealth to fall back on. In fact, a New York Times analysis of Census data shows that art history majors are wildly overrepresented among those in the top 1 percent of incomes. Perhaps the causality runs from art history to high incomes, but I doubt it.That is, it's not that studying art history leads to a high-paying job, but that people who are already in a very affluent social class choose this major and then do very well exploiting pathways that exist for them because of pre-existing wealth.
Since art history is an unusual and difficult major, Postrel says, Obama should have used communications or psychology as his example: "It would have been much braver and more serious to take on the less-rigorous majors that attract lots of students."
As I said yesterday, I think saying "art history" was subtle — i.e., deniable — gender politics. Whether or not you know it's a major that skews very female — and it does — it sounds feminine. Obama was speaking to young men, talking up manly skilled manufacturing and trades.
But Postrel makes me think another reason to say "art history" was to refer to those rich 1%-ers out there somewhere. You don't know them — he was speaking at a GE plant in Wisconsin — they mean nothing to you. Go ahead and a laugh at the other.
It's funny that he can get away with that, telling working-class people to feel good about working class jobs because the things those other people learn in college are... Well, what did he say they are? Unmanly? Not for you? Did he say it without saying it? He didn't say it! But he got that idea into their heads, didn't he?