APS News

Physics Salaries on the Rise

Physicists, especially those employed in industry, continued to enjoy rising salaries in 2000, according to results from a recent survey conducted by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Statistical Research Center. The median annual salary for full-time employed respondents with PhDs reached $78,000, while those with master's degrees earned a median salary of $63,000, and those with bachelors degrees, $60,000. And AIP society members who received their PhDs within the last five years, and are not postdocs, report median salaries that are 9% higher than their colleagues with similar experience in 1998. (The AIP consists of 10 member societies, of which APS is the largest.)

Physics Salaries on the Rise

[FFRDC = Federally Funded Research and Development Centers]

The AIP study is the latest in a series produced biennially since 1979 to monitor the effects of demographic factors on salary levels, based upon data reported by the US members of AIP's member societies. More than one-sixth of the non-student US resident members of AIP member societies were randomly selected for the latest survey, with over 15,000 questionnaires mailed out in May, requesting information on demographics, educational attainment and employment. Of these, nearly 9,350 were completed and returned, for a 62% response rate.

According to Raymond Chu, one of the report's co-authors, several factors influence the wide range of salaries reported by scientists: degree level, experience, and the employment sector and geographical region of employment. Of these, degree level has the most impact on salary. "The higher the level of education attained, the higher the salary earned," he says. Median salaries for society members with PhDs vary with geographical location and are influenced most strongly by type of physics employment common in that region, as well as the relative cost of living.

For example, society members with PhDs working in New Mexico reported the highest median salary ($93,000) in large part because this state has a large percentage of members working in Federally Funded Research & Development Centers (FFRDCs). Members working in Washington, DC, an area affected by substantial numbers working under a competitive government pay scale, also reported a high median salary ($90,000). The lowest median salaries were in Iowa and Kansas, reflecting the lack of society members earning the high salaries in private companies or the government in those regions.

The industrial sector employs nearly a quarter of the working society members with PhDs, with a median industry salary of $90,2000. This is 7% higher than reported in the last salary survey, conducted two years ago, and part of a 17% salary increase recorded from 1996-2000. The highest median salary for PhDs in industry was in the Pacific states ($98,000), while the lowest ($55,000) were reported in the East South Central and West North Central states. Industry respondents with master's degrees had a median salary of $79,500, while those with bachelor's degrees reported a median salary of $71,000.

However, industry salaries fell below the median salary at FFRDCs, such as national laboratories. About 11% of society members with PhDs are employed in FFRDCs, earning a $96,000 median salary. The highest median salaries were reported by PhDs employed in hospitals or medical centers, at $100,000. Universities employ the most society members with PhDs. Two-fifths of PhDs who are not postdocs are employed in universities, where the median annual salary on 9-10 month contracts is $68,000, and $77,000 for those with 11-12 month contracts.

Along gender lines, female society members who earned their PhDs within the last 10 years report average salaries comparable to their male colleagues with similar experience, except for the government sector, where men in their early career reported substantially higher salaries than women in the same category. However, among late-career PhDs working in universities, women reported salaries substantially higher than those reported by men. Females with PhDs are also more likely to work part-time than men with PhDs, but the overall part-time employment rate has dropped. The unemployment rate for women remains under 2%, and for men it is less than 1%, according to Chu.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette