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SPIE Professional July 2015

Optics and photonics salary survey shows gender, regional disparities

SPIE 2015 Global Salary Survey for Optics and Photonics

Salaries in optics and photonics are rising fastest in China, and while median salaries for women overall continue to lag those of men, the gap is closing for those with 15 or fewer years of employment, according to findings in the latest SPIE Optics & Photonics Global Salary Report.

The report, which is being mailed to SPIE members with this issue of SPIE Professional, also found that workers in all sectors of the industry report high levels of satisfaction with their jobs. For-profit respondents rate team success as their priority, while academic and government respondents say scientific discovery gives them the most satisfaction.

Results from the 2015 survey are based on nearly 6000 validated responses from 100 countries. Women make up 16% of the respondents, roughly mirroring their representation in SPIE membership and at SPIE meetings.

Among key findings:

  • The median salary reported by survey respondents is US$64,000, down from last year’s US$73,000, primarily reflecting large declines of the euro and yen against the dollar. Salary levels vary widely and are mostly driven by country income level and employer type.
  • Salaries paid in Chinese yuan have risen by 33% since 2012 versus 5% increases in euro, dollar, and yen earnings.
  • The highest-paid discipline continues to be aerospace, with a median income of US$105,433. Workers in the semiconductor industry were the next highest paid, with a median salary of $88,838.
  • Some 55% of workers in lower-income Asian countries expect a raise of 10% or greater in 2015. Only 10% of higher-income Europeans and 11% of North Americans expect raises of that size.
  • Workers in industry report higher salaries than those in government or academia.
  • Median salaries are highest in the United States ($113,000), followed closely by Switzerland ($104,523).
  • Median salaries are 41% higher overall for men than for women, with the largest wage gap attributable to those with more than 15 years of employment. For those with fewer than five years, the wage gap is 8%. In some positions such as academic deans or provosts and directors, women’s salaries exceed those of men.
  • Women respondents to the survey are younger, with 40% of female respondents under 36 years of age versus 27% of men, suggesting an increase in the number of women entering careers in optics and photonics than in past years.
  • Survey respondents are highly satisfied with their jobs overall: 85% enjoy their work, 86% find their work meaningful, and 90% respect the work of their peers.

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs said he was encouraged to see so many in the optics and photonics industry anticipate salary jumps in 2015. “I hope these expectations come to pass and that we see better remuneration for the scientists, engineers, and manufacturing professionals who are changing our world,” he said.


“While the overall disparity between median salaries for women and men remains discouraging, SPIE is heartened by the narrowing of this disparity among younger professionals and by the continued growth of the percentage of women among our membership and conference participants,” Arthurs said.

“SPIE is committed to providing the crucial exposure and networking opportunities that conferences offer for the many brilliant women in our community. Visibility is invaluable, particularly in the early stages of one’s career.”

Arthurs commended other efforts to help remedy the disparity, such as new European Commission rules about female representation at Digital Agenda (DG Connect) events. (See separate article on DG Connect pledge.)

Arthurs, who has worked in both academia and industry, echoed the sense of job satisfaction reflected by the survey and encouraged optics and photonics professionals to share that with students, teachers, and parents they meet.

“Members of our community know the rewards of a career that enables one to participate in unlocking the secrets of the brain through work in optogenetics,” for example, or discovering a touch-sensitive technology that allows unsighted people to use cellphones.

Finding solutions to future challenges requires attracting the best and brightest of the next generation to careers in optics and photonics, Arthurs said.


Many in optics and photonics jobs work long hours.

According to the SPIE salary report, 37% of workers in higher-income Asian countries reported they work 50 or more hours per week.

Romania had the largest percentage of employees who reported working 55 or more hours per week: 28% said they did.

Women and men report similar levels of job satisfaction in all but one area — 57% of men feel that they are paid fairly versus 49% of women.

The full report on optics and photonics salaries is available from the SPIE Career Center.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201507.03

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