Optics Job Report

New SPIE Salary Survey finds good pay, satisfaction, and career success matter.

01 July 2014

Aerospace scientists, semiconductor engineers, and those optics and photonics professionals who work in Switzerland, the United States, and Israel are the most highly paid in the industry, a new SPIE salary survey of the global optics and photonics industry has found.

The SPIE 2014 Optics & Photonics Global Salary Report also found new insights into how different workers view career success; a continuing high rate of job satisfaction; and a persistent gender gap in salaries, as indicated in three previous surveys.

The largest such international study of the photonics industry found a median salary of US $73,000, with salaries widely distributed around this midpoint and differences primarily driven by country income level, employer type, and primary job type.

Median salaries for optics and photonics workers in Sweden, Canada, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Israel, USA, and Switzerland were more than that, with the Swiss median reaching US $124,599.

The highest-paid discipline is aerospace, with a median income of $116,269, followed by the semiconductor sector at $102,567, and illumination at $100,000. Other discipline areas that reported salaries higher than the overall median included materials, optical design, optical systems, and systems engineering or research.

Workers in the civil/environmental discipline and survey respondents from Ukraine fell at the opposite end of the spectrum at $48,000 and $5,701, respectively.


The SPIE annual salary survey, which is available at spiecareercenter.org and with the printed copies of this issue of SPIE Professional mailed to SPIE members, also asked photonics workers about job mobility and their definitions of career success.

Across the community, from academia to for-profit organizations to government and military institutions, workers say team success is among top factors in defining their career success.

And while the top two career-success factors are the same for academic, government, and military workers — scientific discovery followed by team success — for-profit workers' top two are team success followed by the organization's success. The trends hold across regions of varying pay ranges as well as varying work-week lengths.

Questions about job mobility showed that North Americans are the most frequent job changers; only 10% of North Americans have worked at the same organization throughout their entire careers. By comparison, 27% of higher-income Asians said they were at the same organization, along with 38% of higher-income Europeans and 50% of lower-income Asians.


The study found a slightly wider wage gap between men’s and women’s income this year. The 2014 survey found that men earn 40% more than women, with respective median salaries of $77,000 and $55,169. The 2013 report found that median salaries were 36% overall higher for men than women.

In 2014, women make more than men only in Latin America and the Caribbean where their salaries are 10% higher. Elsewhere in the world, women's median salaries range from 11% lower in Oceania to 67% lower in Africa and higher-income Asia. In addition to geography, duration of employment also factored into the gender gap, with the survey finding a 45% wage gap for men and women who were employed 30 or more years.

The gender salary disparity hurts not only women looking for rewarding careers, but society as a whole, said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs:

"We cannot afford to continue to discourage 51% of the next generation from working to help find the vital solutions to the world's challenges in developing sustainable energy supplies, improving healthcare, ensuring viability of our communication networks, and safeguarding our communities," Arthurs said.

Men outnumbered women in this survey, comprising 84% of the sample. The wage gaps outlined in the SPIE survey are consistent with a 2012 Nature report that found “Large salary disparities persist between male and female researchers.”

  • Workers in the optics and photonics industry are highly satisfied with their jobs overall: 85% enjoy their work, while 88% respect the work of their peers.
  • For-profit workers see product innovation as a key element of career success, vs. academic and government employees who place high value on scientific discovery.
  • The work week is long: 40% of workers in higher-income Asian countries spend 50 or more hours per week on the job; 21% of Romanian workers report working 55 or more hours per week, the largest percentage of any country; and Japan follows closely, with 20% working 55+ hours per week.
  • Some 91% of workers in lower-income Asian countries expect a raise in 2014 vs. 58% of lower-income Europeans.
  • Median salaries are 40% higher overall for men than for women in the photonics industry, with the largest gap occurring in late career.

The SPIE survey was conducted in February, with just over 6000 valid responses from 103 countries. Responses from countries with less than 25 survey participants were not included.

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