Optics & Photonics Global Salary Report 2022
The Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report provides key information on wages and the workplace across countries, organization types, career stages, gender, and other categories.
Sign into your SPIE account or create a free new account to learn how your pay compares to your colleagues’, how earnings in academia compare to industry, how gender impacts wages, and more. The report offers 16 topical chapters, more than 27 figures and tables, and the option to download a 28-page PDF.
The Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report provides a reference for employees, students, and managers interested in understanding compensation across the career landscape: How does my pay compare with that of my colleagues? How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected remote versus in-person work in our community? What can I expect to earn in industry versus academia? The report addresses these questions and a variety of other issues across fourteen topical sections, drawing on original research conducted by SPIE.
SPIE delivers the report each year, free of charge, as part of its mission as a not-for-profit educational society supporting the science and application of light. The report builds on data from over 3,800 individuals in 90 countries1 who shared career information in a short online survey. This is the twelfth annual survey and report, the largest such study in the optics and photonics community.
Unless otherwise noted, all results are based on full-time workers. For a complete list of participant countries and other details on survey methodology, please see Methodology and Endnotes.
|•||The median salary for all full-time employees declined 1%, from $79,380 last year to $78,644 this year.2|
|•||Many workers shifted to remote work early in the pandemic, but have started to return to face-to-face workplaces over recent months.|
|•||Salaries paid in Chinese yuan are up 21% versus last year, and have increased 178% since 2011. Since last year, earnings in British pounds rose by 21%, while pay in U.S. dollars was flat. Earnings in euro and Japanese yen each declined 2%.|
|•||The highest-paid discipline is aerospace, with a median income of $116,273. Aerospace has held the top spot for all twelve years that the survey has been conducted.|
|•||Median salaries are 16% higher overall for men than for women, down from 28% in last year’s survey.|
|•||Most full-time workers surveyed identify as engineers (64%). Within this group, 59% have engineering degrees and are working as engineers, 25% have engineering degrees but are not working as engineers, and 16% work as engineers without having engineering degrees.|
|•||The most popular engineering degrees are electrical (27%) and optical (19%), with mechanical (13%) falling in third place.|
|•||The largest proportion of engineers focuses its work on optical engineering (41%), followed by electrical (11%).|
|•||Startups account for just over 15% of workers at for-profit organizations. These workers earn median salaries of $85,000, versus $107,000 for those at traditional companies.|
|•||Almost two-thirds of student respondents are working towards a PhD (64%), followed by 22% pursuing master’s degrees, and 11% seeking a bachelor’s degree.|
Full-time salaries cluster around the median of $78,664, with half of respondents being paid between $44,042 and $134,000. The overall distribution of pay is very wide, with 5th percentile workers earning $9,204 while those at the 95th percentile earn $245,000.
Distribution of Full-time Salaries
Workers in Switzerland, the United States, and Israel enjoy the highest median salaries. Workers at for-profit organizations earn more than their colleagues in academia in most of the countries listed.
Median salary for full-time workers, overall and at for-profit and academic employers
Survey responses by region
64% of full-time workers identify themselves as engineers
Within this group:
Median salaries shown
What type of engineering is your main focus?
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a shift to remote work in our community. Prior to the pandemic, only 11% of survey respondents worked half or more of their hours remotely. One year ago, 64% of employees worked remotely half or more of the time, while currently that number has declined to 45%.
What proportion of your work hours did or do you spend working remotely versus in an office, lab, or other workplace with colleagues?
Salaries paid in Chinese yuan and British pounds are both up 21% versus last year. Pay in U.S. dollars was flat, while earnings in euro and Japanese yen each declined 2%. Although overall median salary declined by one percent this year, over the twelve years that this survey has been conducted, median salaries in each of these five currency groups have increased. Wages paid in Chinese yuan have increased the most, rising 178% since 2011.3
Change in median salaries, 2011-21, main currency groups
Growth in median salaries, 2011-2021, main currency groups
For the set of countries included below, pay for full-time workers is highest in the United States and North America at every career stage, while employees at for-profit organizations earn more than their counterparts in academia.
Median salary by years employed for selected countries
Median salary by years employed and organization type category
What most inspired you to pursue optics, photonics, or a related field?
Median salary by years employed and region
North America, Oceania, and higher-income Asia stand out as the regions with the highest salaries.4 A large portion of regional income gaps is explained by the level of economic development of countries within each area.5
Median salary by region
How did you find your original position at your present employer?
Median salaries are greatest for self-employed/consultants, military/defense, and for-profit companies. Universities, colleges, and other educational institutions and “private laboratory or research institute” pay the least.6
Median salary by employer type
Median salary by region: For-profit, government/military, and academic employers
Startups account for just over 15% of workers at for-profit organizations. These entrepreneurs earn median salaries of $85,000 versus $107,000 for their colleagues at traditional companies.
Median salaries at startup versus traditional companies
Aerospace and semiconductor disciplines enjoy the highest median earnings, at $116,273 and $111,789, respectively. Civil or environmental salaries are the smallest, with a median salary of $50,000.
Median salary by primary discipline
The two most important factors driving salary gaps across disciplines are employment sector and country income level. The highest-paying disciplines have much higher representation at for-profit companies: 69% of semiconductor and 65% of aerospace workers are at for-profits.
Country income level has a similar impact on median salaries of optics and photonics disciplines. In aerospace, for example, 89% of workers are located in North America or higher-income European countries.Country income level has a similar impact on median salaries of optics and photonics disciplines. In aerospace, for example, 89% of workers are located in North America or higher-income European countries.
Median salary by discipline: For-profit, government/military, and academic employers
Security/defense is the highest-paid application area, which is unsurprising given that 54% of these workers are in aerospace, the highest-paying discipline.
Median salary by application area
Women make up 21% of the respondents to the survey, 31% of students, 18% of fulltime workers, and 22% of part-time workers. The median salary for all full-time women is $68,000, versus $79,497 for men.
Though the overall median salary is higher for men, women earn more than men in a variety of subgroups including military/defense, civilian government, and those with 1-5 years of employment.
Median salary by gender and region
Median salary by gender and years employed
Median salary by gender and employer type
Other factors that influence salary include job level and job role. Top organizational leaders enjoy the highest salaries, while research and teaching assistants anchor the bottom of the range.
Median salary by job level
Median salary by job level, selected countries
Median salary by job role
The majority of student respondents are pursuing PhDs.
Degree being pursued
In December of 2021, SPIE sent email survey invitations to a large subset of its global customer database. Response was voluntary and open. A gift card raffle and early access to this report were offered as incentives to encourage participation. Surveys were completed online using Alchemer’s enterprise survey tool. Results were filtered for duplicates and invalid data to yield 3,808 valid responses. Microsoft Excel and SPSS were utilized for summary statistics and related analyses.
For questions, comments, or suggestions, contact report author Adam Resnick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|1.||This list includes valid responses from full-time, part-time, unemployed, student, and retiree respondents. United States (1389), India (248), Peoples Republic of China (224), Germany (185), Italy (142), Japan (130), Canada (117), Russia (111), United Kingdom (110), Spain (86), France (85), South Korea (60), Mexico and Turkey (56), Brazil and Switzerland (46), Taiwan (45), Netherlands (43), Poland (37), Australia (30), Israel (27), Czechia and Pakistan (24), Singapore (23), Austria (22), Lithuania and Portugal (20), Ukraine (18), Belgium (16), Argentina and Finland (15), Chile (14), Egypt (13), Denmark and Greece (12), Colombia and Sweden (11), Malaysia and Nigeria (10), Indonesia, Ireland, New Zealand, Romania, and South Africa (9), Algeria (8), Morocco (7), Bulgaria, Hong Kong SAR, China, and Hungary (6), Bangladesh, Latvia, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates (5), Ecuador, Iran, Philippines, Slovak Republic, and Thailand (4), Angola, Estonia, Norway, and Vietnam (3), Armenia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Iraq, Moldova, Peru, Slovenia, and Tunisia (2), Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, Cameroon, Chad, Croatia, Cyprus, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Libya, Liechtenstein, Malta, Nepal, Palestine, State of, Qatar, Serbia, Suriname, Uganda, and Uzbekistan (1).|
|2.||U.S. dollars are used throughout. Local currencies were converted using January 2022 market exchange rates. Salary figures include total yearly compensation, both base pay and bonuses. Full-time employees are those who indicated working 35 or more hours per week. Unless otherwise noted, all data on pay is drawn from full-time employees.|
|3.||Yearly growth was computed by comparing same-currency results for each year.|
|4.||Oceania is comprised of Australia and New Zealand. North America is comprised of the United States and Canada. Mexico is included in the Latin America and Caribbean category.|
|5.||Europe and Asia are composed of countries spanning a wide range of income levels, even when subdivided into higher- and lower-income groups. For example, the European higher-income category includes Lithuania and Norway at $19,620 and $78,290 per capita Gross National Income (GNI), respectively, for 2020. European lower-income countries include Russia at $10,690 and Ukraine at $3,370.
Higher- and lower-income subcategories are based on the World Bank’s threshold for high-income countries, $3,540 per capita GNI in 2020. This threshold is used throughout this report when referring to “higher-income” and “lower-income” countries.
For data on per capita GNI, see http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD/countries. For World Bank country income categories, see http://data.worldbank.org/about/country-classifications.
|6.||The category “for-profit” is composed of company/corporation, self-employed/consultant, and fill-in “other” entries that indicate for-profit affiliation. “Academic” is composed of university/college, private lab or research institute, not-for-profit, intergovernmental, other research institute, and open-text “other” entries that indicate academic organizations. “Government/military” is composed of government lab or research institute, civilian government, and military/defense.|
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