2019 Salary Survey: Some Unusual Trends

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Spectroscopy, Spectroscopy-03-01-2019, Volume 34, Issue 3
Pages: 26-34

Our annual salary and employment survey looks at salaries, workload, job satisfaction, and the overall job market for spectroscopists. This year, we had some surprising results.

The 2019 Spectroscopy salary and employment survey extracted from calendar year 2018 trends shows a marked decrease in salaries from previous survey years. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they were either highly satisfied or satisfied with their current positions.

This year's Spectroscopy salary survey results showed a 14% decrease in average base salaries reported, as compared to 2018 survey numbers. A comparison of the survey sampling population from 2018 to 2019 indicated a slight decrease in the average age of respondents this year, with more respondents from the Midwest (USA), and fewer from industry (54.6% versus 67.9%); these factors would be expected to reduce the average salary values somewhat. Last year, 38.3% reported their job titles as laboratory director or manager, whereas this year only 17.2% reported similar job titles; this significantly reduced the number of $125,000-plus salaries within the survey data (see the box insert within this article to learn how the survey was conducted). The salary trends over the history of this survey from 2001 to present are shown in Table I and Figure 1. Given that these results and our corresponding analysis were so surprising, we calculated the results multiple times; each calculation yielded the same results. The high number of survey responses this year (n = 405) provided a good sample population for salary calculations; possibly the salaries will once again trend upward in future years. For the statisticians out there, the median and mean values were not widely different, suggesting a somewhat normal distribution of salary values. One might also observe from the past five years (1–5) that last year's reported salary increases may be somewhat of an anomaly as well (Table I and Figure 1). Subsequent years may reveal additional cause(s) for such dramatic changes.

Table I: Average reported base salaries from 2001 to 2019

Salary Trends and Data

Average Salaries by Gender, Sector, Education, and Age

As shown in Table II, the average male base salary of $84,602 is comparable to the 2015 survey average, and the lowest recorded over the past five years. Female salaries followed a similar trend, with an average value of $67,235, also representing the lowest survey results over the past six years. As for the gender gap in salaries, there is a clear and significant difference between male and female salaries. However unless the age effect and other effects are accounted for, such as education and years of experience, the raw differences are difficult to interpret precisely. That being said, the salaries for full-time male workers this past year averaged $84,602, compared to $67,235 for full-time female workers. This is a negative gap of 25.9%, which is statistically meaningful.

Figure 1: Trend line of average reported base salaries from 2001 to 2019.


When comparing sector data, average survey base salaries decreased in academia to an average of $58,250, a large downward trend of $15,231. For the industrial sector, the average salary was $86,800, a decrease of $11,662 over last year. Reported government salaries were also lower, with an average of $77,111, a decrease of $3,252 over the 2018 survey.

Table II: Average salaries by gender, sector, education, and age

Breaking the average salaries down by education level reveals a startling reduction of 23% from last year for those who have completed a PhD. The current average of $94,939 is roughly equivalent to that of 2015. This year's data also indicated that our sampling population with bachelor's degrees had higher average salaries than those at the master's degree level. This ranking of salaries was also observed in the 2014 and 2016 surveys. Master's level salary reductions from 2018 to 2019 were 23%. The bachelor's level salary decrease from last year to this year was much less exhibiting a 0.5% decrease, indicating some solidity in bachelor's level career positions.

Survey data indicated that salaries have declined for all age groups compared to last year's survey. The 60+ year age group had an average salary of $83,212, down from $97,816 last year; this was a –17.6% change. The 50–60 age group had the most dramatic change, dropping 27.7%, from $106,573 last year to $83,488 this year. The 40–50 age group averaged $82,725 this year, down 2.8% from last year's value of $85,004. The under 40 age group averaged $62,365 this year versus $70,589 in the 2018 survey, a change of –13.2%.

Table III: United States regional breakdown of employment sector and average salary

Average Regional Salary Differences in the United States

Table III and Figure 2 show average base salaries for full-time workers in different geographical regions in the continental United States. The Southwest and Southeast had a marked increase in average salaries compared to last year. The Southwest had the largest uptick, from $84,132 to $94,049,, an increase of 11.8%. Salaries in the Southeast grew 4.3%, from $84,000 to $87,622. Other sectors had decreases in average salaries, with the most dramatic drop in the Northeast, at –20%, a drop from $92,381 to $73,822. This is followed by a decrease in the Northeast of –14.0%, with average salaries dipping from $107,313 to $92,295. Midwest salaries decreased 6.5%, from $88,940 to $83,172. Overall, the Southwest exhibited the highest salaries followed by the Northeast, then the Southeast, Midwest, and Northwest.

Figure 2: The average base salaries by U.S. region for the 2019 survey from low to high.


A Closer Review of the Gender Gap

When we look at the ongoing gender pay gap (Table IV), we first note that all groups, irrespective of gender, reported a downtrend in salaries for this year versus last year. For males working in industry, the reported average salaries dropped from $108,068 last year to $94,765 this year, a –14.0% drop. For females working within the industrial sector, salaries dropped from last year's $85,161 to this year's $71,621, a –18.9% dip. In academia, average salary changes from last year to this year were $78,946 to $61,263 for males, and $69,231 to $54,778 for females. In government work, average salary changes from last year to this year were $81,247 to $80,042 for males, and $76,800 to $69,200 for females.

Table IV: Male versus female average salary, 2016–2019

If we are to compare salary gaps over the past five years in dollars (Table II) and percentage (Figure 3) for all categories, we see that salary gaps between male and female worker's salaries for all groups are significant, and remain that way. Even though there have been variations from year to year, the problem seems to be changing very little, according to our survey data.

Figure 3: Salary gap between male and female workers over past six years (as percentage average salary difference).

Bonuses, and Salary Increases

The average annual base salary for 2018 (2019 survey) for full-time workers was $79,711. Fewer than half of our respondents (46.42%) received a bonus, whereas 53.6% did not. For those who did receive bonuses, the average bonus was $12,026 for U.S. full time workers and $11,962 for all full-time workers (U.S. plus international).

Table V: Respondents showing actual versus expected salary increases for 2018

Salary increases by percentage for this past year are shown in Table V. From the table we can see that 17.22% did not expect any increase, but 27.41% faced this reality; fully more than 10% of respondents that expected a raise did not receive one. From the table, one can see that 16.01% (8.46% + 2.11% + 5.44%) expected an increase of 5% or more, and 15.66% (6.02% + 4.22% + 5.42%) actually received this level of raise. Nearly 84% (17.22% + 37.46% + 29.31%) of respondents expected to receive less than a 4% increase, and, lo and behold, 84% (27.41% + 34.64% + 22.29%) actually did receive a salary increase of 4% or less during the survey year–remarkable! We can see from the table that, even though expectations for salary increases among respondents is not overly optimistic, even these low expectations were not met. From column 4, we can observe that over 20% (the sum of column 4, Table V) did not have their salary increase expectations met.


Figure 4: Breakdown of perceived basis (personal, team, or organizational success) for salary increases.


For most respondents (63%), salary increases were perceived to be based on organizational success, whereas 31% believe their salary increases were based on personal achievements (Figure 4). When asked if salary increases fairly reflected personal performance, 64% did not agree, and when asked if their annual salary increase keeps up with inflation, 70% said it did not. When asked if compensation received was competitive with salaries for similar positions in other organizations, 54% disagreed. When asked the ultimate question if one would consider leaving a science career to make more money, only 39.3% said they would.

Figure 5: Percent of respondents indicating various perceived causes for their increased workload.

Workload and Paid Time Off During 2018


During this past year, 56.0% of respondents reported an increased workload, 38.8% said their workload stayed the same, and 4.6% reported a decrease in workload. Last year, 63.5% stated their workload had increased over previous years. The perceived reasons for increased workload during this past year are shown as Figure 5. Increased business and added responsibility for an existing position were the main causes for workload increases. New equipment, staffing cuts, and new regulations comprised the next set of factors. From Table VI, we see that, although only 26.78% (22.68% + 4.10%) of respondents are contracted to work more than 40 or hours per week, 58.47% actually worked more than 40 hours per week, and almost 15% admitted to working more than 50 hours per week on average. These work numbers are as expected for professionals.

Table VI: Percentage of respondents showing the number of contracted hours expected per week versus actual hours worked

Paid Time Off (Vacation)

Allotted paid vacation for respondents during 2018 is shown in Table VII. We see from the table that 28.15% or respondents are given five weeks or more of paid vacation, while 26.23% receive two weeks or fewer of paid time off. We should consider that 39.25% of respondents have been with the same organization for 10 or more years; 18.0% of the entire surveyed group has remained with the same organization for more than 20 years. Happily, more than half (51.1%) of respondents have four or more weeks of vacation.

Table VII: Entitlement for paid vacation in 2018


Job Satisfaction Intangibles

Career Fulfillment Factors

For this 2019 survey, 65% of respondents said they were either highly satisfied or satisfied with their current position, whereas 35% were either highly dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied. In another form of this question, 60% of respondents said their job met their career expectations, while 40% said it did not. The survey asked a number of detailed questions related to career fulfillment, and these responses are given in Table VIII. A full 76% felt that their work was valued by their employer, and 83% felt their job was secure. A remarkable 75.7% responded that they use their skills and training to its fullest extent in their current position. Overall, the career fulfillment responses were extremely positive!

Table VIII: Career fulfillment factors showing detailed responses

Bullying in the Workplace

Last year's survey dealt heavily with sexual harassment in the workplace. This year, the editors decided to look more closely at another issue that receives far less attention, but that can also cause serious work stress without much opportunity for workers to get relief: bullying. We asked a number of related questions with some surprising results (Table IX). Just under half (47.7%) of respondents feel unable to express their concerns at work. The same percentage of respondents feel that they do not have sufficient authority to accomplish their jobs. A total of 23% feel bullied or intimidated at work, with 10.8% admitting they have been publicly humiliated by their boss. Note that work stress levels in 2018 were perceived to have increased for 48.0% of respondents; 45.2 % said that work stress remained unchanged, with only 6.7% stating that they had a decrease in work related stress during 2018.

Table IX: Responses related to workplace bullying (in rank order)

Job Choice and Satisfaction

We also asked our respondents about the factors they consider most important to them when evaluating a job (Table X). The top-ranked factors were salary and bonus structure, work–life balance, and "the team I work with." Other factors, including job security, intellectual challenge, and a tolerant work place, also rated above 85%. The three least important factors were prestige of the organization, the ability to work from home, and maternity or paternity leave (although we noted that 67.9% of our respondents are age 40 or over).

Table X: Factors important for choosing a job (more important or less important and ranked by importance)

Other Benefits and Job Fulfillment Issues

The survey also asked about other work benefits, such as sponsored technical conference attendance, payment of professional dues, provision for participation in inventions and patent work, and recognition of achievement by management. From Table XI, one can see that only 5.16% are permitted to attend five or more conferences, while 66.06% may attend none or just one sponsored conference per year. When asked if their organization pays their professional dues, only 35.5% answered yes. When asked if the organization allows workers to participate in inventions or patents, just under half (49.4%) said they did. When asked if individuals or teams received special recognition from management during 2018, only 28.7% said they had, with a large majority of 71.34% telling us they had not.

Table XI: Number of technical conferences respondents were allowed to attend in 2018

The Job Market and Job Prospects

How Easy is it to Find a New Position?

The job market for spectroscopy related positions was also considered in this survey. From a series of questions, 23% of respondents said competition was strong for such positions in their respective locations; 50% said it was moderate, and 27% said that the competition was weak (which suggests that employers would have to compete for good candidates to fill these skilled roles). A series of questions was asked about the difficulty in finding a satisfactory position if one had to change jobs. 12.3% said it would be straightforward to find an equivalent position; 40.2% said it would take some time, but it would be possible to find a comparable position; 21.7% said they could find another job, but it probably wouldn't be as good as their current position; and 25.8% said a search would be difficult, and they would take whatever job they could find. Thus, just under half (47.5%) of respondents present a poor outlook for job opportunities.

To Be or Not to Be (in Management)?

Formal Academic Management Training

Just over half (51.3%) of our respondents have a recognized management role at work, with 63.9% of those having 1–5 direct reports, and 5.4% of managers having greater than 30 direct reports (Figure 6). For the total respondent population, just 20% said they had formal academic credentials in business or management. Of those that have had formal business or management training, a series of questions was asked to determine the perceived value in taking additional time and expense to complete formal academic training in addition to their scientific or engineering training. The responses are given in Table XII. Those formally trained in business management are in strong agreement that this training has given them a marked advantage in the workplace, that the time and money invested was worth it, and that this training has led to greater job responsibility. One might note here that, historically, the base salaries for managers have averaged much higher than for nonmanagers.

Figure 6: The percentage of managers with a specified number of direct reports.


Salary Advantages in Management

In 2019, there was little base salary difference reported between management and nonmanagement positions for women ($67,098 versus $67,354, respectively).However, there was a significant difference for men ($93,935 versus $74,818) (see Table IV). We note that, over the past four years, the average salaries for management versus nonmanagement, irrespective of gender or location, are $91,821 and $73,318, respectively. This trend represents a 27.5% base salary advantage for those in management positions, though in this year's data, women did not benefit in this regard.

Table XII: Perceived benefits of formal academic business or management training (in rank order)

Summary and Conclusion

The 2019 Spectroscopy salary survey results showed a 14% decrease in average base salaries compared to 2018. Of course, the demographics of the survey have a major effect on results and we noted specific differences in this year's respondent pool. Even though there was a decrease in salaries this year, there is still financial advantage for acquiring an advanced technical degree, and even formal management or business training. The distinction between bachelor's and master's degrees is not so clear, but obtaining a PhD has yielded significant salary benefits, according to the data we have seen over the 19 years of this survey. The Northeast and Southeast regions of the United States traditionally yield the highest salaries, and, as in other professions, years of experience generally provide proportional increases in wages. Fewer than half of respondents received bonuses, and these averaged nearly $12,000. Salary gaps by gender are significant, and remain that way. Even though there have been variations from year to year, the gender gap seems to be changing very little, according to our survey data over the years.

The survey indicated that over one- fourth of respondents received no increase in pay last year, and only one in seven received a raise of 5% or more. More than 80% received a salary increase of 4% or less. Most respondents believe that salary increases were based on organizational success, that salary increases did not fairly reflect personal performance, and that increases did not keep up with inflation. Well over half of those surveyed said their workload had increased, with respondents reporting that increased business within their organizations or added responsibility for an existing position were the main causes for this increase. Well over half of the survey respondents work more than 40 hours per week, with one in seven working more than 50 hours per week on average. Over half of respondents receive four or more weeks of vacation, while one-fourth receive two weeks or less.

In spite of all this, two-thirds of respondents said they were either highly satisfied or satisfied with their current positions, 60% of respondents said their job met their career expectations, and a full three-fourths felt that their work was valued by their employer. Over 80% of those that completed the survey felt their job was secure. Yet one in four expressed feelings of being bullied or intimidated at work, with one in ten admitting to having been publicly humiliated by a boss. Nearly half of respondents stated there was an increase in work stress during this past year. Salary and bonus structure, work and life balance, and "the team I work with," were clearly the most important factors to job satisfaction.

Two-thirds of responders are allowed to attend one (or none) conferences per year; just one third have their professional dues paid, and just under half participate in invention or patent work. Only one in four was formally recognized for their work performance by their organizations last year. Just one in eight feel it would be straightforward to find another equivalent position; one in four said a search for a new position would be difficult, and they would take whatever job they could find.

Over half of our respondents have a formal management role in their current job function, with nearly two- thirds of those having 1–5 direct reports and 5% of managers having more than 30 direct reports. We note that one in five of all respondents have formal academic credentials in business or management. Over the past four years, there has been an average base salary advantage of 27.5% for management versus nonmanagement positions, irrespective of gender or location.


(1) B. Degg, Spectroscopy29(3), 34–40 (2014).

(2) B Degg, Spectroscopy30(3), 44–49 (2015).

(3) L. Botcherby, Spectroscopy31(3), 38–42 (2016).

(4) L. Botcherby, Spectroscopy32(3), 34–40 (2017).

(5) L. Botcherby, Spectroscopy33(3), 24–33 (2018).

Jerome Workman, Jr. is the Senior Technical Editor for Spectroscopy and LCGC North America. Direct correspondence to: