May 15, 2024

Understanding Survivorship Bias


Understanding Survivorship Bias

“I don’t want to further my study. I am working to be a YouTuber/ influencer.”

“Attending college means spending four years for a degree and possibly accumulating education loan debt. But working as a Grab rider, I can start earning $2,500 to $4,000 a month, which is even higher than a fresh grad’s first job, with flexible working hours. I can sleep until whenever I want and work at night if I have extra energy.”

Survivorship Bias: A Brief Explanation

Survivorship bias refers to the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that survived some process and overlooking those that did not, often leading to overly optimistic beliefs. This bias is prevalent in many areas, including career decisions and job market perceptions. By only looking at successful cases, we ignore the numerous instances where similar efforts did not lead to success, creating a skewed perception of reality.

One of the most frequently cited examples of survivorship bias in modern times involves the success stories of company founders who dropped out of university. These narratives often create a misleading perception that leaving formal education is a common pathway to extraordinary success.

Famous Dropouts

  • Steve Jobs (Apple): Dropped out of Reed College after one semester. Co-founded Apple Inc.
  • Bill Gates (Microsoft): Left Harvard University to start Microsoft with Paul Allen.
  • Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook): Dropped out of Harvard University to develop Facebook.
  • Michael Dell (Dell Technologies): Left the University of Texas to grow Dell Technologies.

These stories are often highlighted because they are extraordinary and inspirational. However, they represent a tiny fraction of individuals who have dropped out of university. The vast majority of dropouts do not achieve such success and often face significant challenges in the job market.

Key Points to Consider:

Selective Reporting: Media and society tend to focus on the rare success stories while ignoring the countless individuals who do not achieve similar outcomes. This selective reporting can create an unrealistic picture of the likelihood of success.

Underlying Factors: Many of these successful dropouts had unique advantages such as strong networks, exceptional skills, or access to capital. Their success is often due to a combination of factors beyond just dropping out.

Broader Context: Most high-paying and stable jobs still require a degree. Higher education provides not only specialized knowledge but also critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and valuable professional networks.

Long-Term Stability: Dropping out of university can limit career progression and earnings potential in the long term. For every Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, there are millions who struggle without the credentials that a degree provides.

The allure of becoming a successful YouTuber or earning quick money as a Grab rider is strong. We often see stories of individuals who have gained massive followings and substantial income, but we rarely hear about the countless others who invested time and resources into their channels without achieving success. Similarly, while some Grab riders report earnings of $2,500 to $4,000 per month, these figures often reflect those who work long hours and manage to navigate the competitive and algorithm-driven environment effectively.

Gig work, such as food delivery, can indeed be lucrative in the short term, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Riders often face unpredictable earnings, lack of job security, and no benefits like health insurance or retirement plans. Additionally, the physical demands and risks associated with such jobs can take a toll over time. Many riders will then realize that their earnings have stagnated or even decreased due to market saturation and changing company policies​.

Long-Term Career Prospects

While gig jobs offer immediate income, they may not provide the same long-term benefits as a college degree. Higher education often leads to better job stability, higher earning potential, and more opportunities for career advancement. For instance, the average starting salary for a fresh graduate in Singapore can be around $3,300+ per month, with the potential for significant increases over time​.

Traditional careers often come with stability that gig jobs lack. Regular employment typically includes benefits such as health insurance, paid leave, retirement plans, and job security. These benefits are crucial for long-term financial security and overall well-being. One of the most significant advantages of pursuing higher education and a traditional career path is the potential for career progression. Starting in an entry-level position can lead to promotions, salary increases, and expanded responsibilities over time. This progression not only enhances earning potential but also provides opportunities for personal and professional growth.

For example, a fresh graduate might start with an entry-level position at $3,300 per month. With experience and performance, they can move up to mid-level roles, which could offer salaries around $5,000 to $7,000 per month. Senior positions can command even higher salaries and often come with greater decision-making power and influence within the organization.

Examples of Career Paths

Engineering: A graduate engineer might start with a salary of $3,500 per month. With experience, they can move up to roles like Senior Engineer, Project Manager, and eventually, Engineering Director, with salaries potentially exceeding $10,000 per month.

Finance: An entry-level financial analyst might start at $3,300 per month. Over time, they can advance to positions such as Senior Analyst, Manager, and eventually, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), with significant salary increases and greater responsibilities.

Healthcare: A fresh graduate nurse may start with a salary of around $3,500 per month. With experience and additional qualifications, they can advance to roles such as Nurse Manager or Director of Nursing, commanding much higher salaries.

To make informed career choices, it’s essential to consider both the short-term and long-term implications of different job paths. Understanding survivorship bias helps in evaluating the real odds of success and the sustainability of various career options.

In conclusion, while the immediate income from gig jobs and the inspirational stories of successful dropouts can seem attractive, especially when compared to the initial stages of a career requiring a college degree, it’s important to weigh these against the potential long-term benefits and stability offered by traditional career paths. Recognizing and accounting for survivorship bias can lead to more informed and balanced career decisions.

This article is written by:
Angel Lim @ Anradus Pte Ltd
Industrial & Organizational Psychologist

理解幸存者偏差 Survivorship Bias







  • Steve Jobs(苹果): 辍学于Reed College,创办了苹果公司。
  • Bill Gates(微软): 离开哈佛大学,与Paul Allen一起创办了微软。
  • Mark Zuckerberg(脸书): 辍学于哈佛大学,创办了脸书。
  • Michael Dell(戴尔科技): 离开德克萨斯大学,创办并发展戴尔科技。



媒体和社会往往专注于少数成功的故事,而忽略了无数未能取得类似成果的人。这种选择性报道会创造出不现实的成功几率。许多成功的辍学生拥有独特的优势,如强大的网络、卓越的技能或资本的获取。他们的成功往往是多种因素共同作用的结果,而不仅仅是因为辍学。大多数高薪且稳定的工作仍然需要学位。高等教育不仅提供专业知识,还培养批判性思维、解决问题的能力和宝贵的职业网络。辍学可能会限制职业发展和长期的收入潜力。对于每一个Bill Gates或Mark Zuckerberg,有成千上万的人因为缺乏学位而挣扎。







  • 工程: 一名毕业工程师的起薪可能是每月3500美元。随着经验积累,他们可以晋升到高级工程师、项目经理,最终成为工程总监,薪资可能超过每月10000美元。
  • 金融: 一名入门级金融分析师的起薪可能是每月3300美元。随着时间的推移,他们可以晋升到高级分析师、经理,最终成为首席财务官(CFO),薪资显著增加,职责也更大。
  • 医疗: 一名新毕业的护士的起薪可能是每月3500美元。随着经验和额外的资格,他们可以晋升到护士经理或护理主任,薪资更高。

Angel Lim @ Anradus Pte Ltd
Industrial & Organizational Psychologist