Most engineers who are employed in 2013 will probably agree engineering is a good way to make a living.
According to IEEE-USA’s 2013 Salary & Benefits Survey, conducted this past May among U.S. IEEE members, engineering salaries are continuing to rise. For members working full time in their primary area of technical competency (PATC), median pre-tax income in 2012 was $124,000. Adjusted for inflation, real income was $119,738–an increase of $3,949 over 2011 real income of $115,789.
While other engineering salary reports are available, the IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey is respected, not only for its longevity–the first such study was conducted in 1972–but also because it draws the most responses. “The 2013 report contains data from a total of 11,549 IEEE members, including 9,559 employed full time in their PATC,” notes Scott Grayson, IEEE-USA’s associate managing director. “We believe it’s the largest salary survey in the engineering world.”
Eric S. Ackerman, IEEE-USA vice president, career and member services, says, “The survey is a valuable tool for U.S. members to gauge how they’re progressing in their careers, and what they may need to do–such as studying for an advanced degree–to get to the next level.”
The study digs deeply, studying differences in respondents’ income, technology sector, level of responsibility, age, education, gender, ethnic background, metropolitan area, and much more. It also includes results for academic employees. The report for the IEEE-USA 2013 Consultants Fee Survey is available to members at IEEE-USA E-Books.
According to the IEEE-USA Salary and Benefits Survey executive summary, the typical respondent is a male in his mid-40s, with an advanced degree, and about 20 years of professional experience. He is at the fifth or sixth of nine possible levels of professional responsibility, supervising a few other people, both professionals and support staff.
But much like the fable of the blind men asked to describe an elephant, each man touching a different part of the animal, the latest IEEE-USA survey reveals a vast range of interconnected detail.
2013 Key Results
The general PATC of Communications Technology–broadcast technology, communications, consumer electronics and vehicular technology–continues to yield the highest median earnings ($140,000). This year, and as in several previous years, Energy and Power Engineering remains at the bottom of PATC median incomes: ($110,000).
The median– the numerical value separating the higher half of a data sample from the lower half–is the preferred measure for most income analyses, since medians are not affected by extreme cases.
An engineer’s employment sector also is a big factor in determining median income; those working in private industry earned top median incomes in 2012, while those employed in state/local government or educational institutions earned the least, on average ($103,000 and $100,850, respectively).
U.S. IEEE members tend to work for large organizations; 29% are employed by companies with more than 10,000 employees in the United States, and another 37.3% work for companies with 501 to 10,000 employees. Private, non-defense companies employ more than half (56%) of IEEE U.S. members in the workforce.
A job in management still brings the highest median primary income–more than $28,000 for those in general management, compared to the median for all respondents. The lowest median wages belong to the job functions of education, teaching, training, engineering support, quality control, reliability and consulting.
After 29-30 years with an employer, the peak median salary ($146,000) tends to stall, or slightly decline. According to the survey report, this so-called “tailing off” for the most experienced is a common characteristic of technical pay; historically, many of the best-paid people rise into general management, leave engineering altogether, or take early retirement.
Women’s Salaries: Still Earning Less
One area of engineering salaries that remains a concern is women’s salaries. Women continue to lag behind men, even considering experience levels. Overall, women still earn $17,000 less in median primary income than men.
Edward L. Kirchner, chair of the IEEE-USA Employment and Career Services Committee, observes that while the gap is still unacceptable, it is lessening. “We’re starting to see indications that the gap is shrinking,” he says, “with an improvement of $3,500 over last year. Moreover, men and women now seem to be starting their careers on equal footing, which hopefully means that equality will stay there as their careers progress.”
He adds that the gaps between men and women who are further along in their careers are “at least partly an unfortunate legacy that starting salaries may not have been equitable in past years.”
U.S. Members in Higher Education
Since 2005, the survey has included questions that explore the small portion of U.S. IEEE members who identify their primary employer as an academic (degree-granting) institution. The 2013 survey includes the 8.7% of members working as fulltime academics in their PATCs.
Overall, the median academic salary for 2013 is $100,850–but this figure reflects such variables as academic ranks, tenure status, highest degree received, and whether the employing institution is public or private. For example, the survey shows full professors have a median income of $150,000, while assistant professors’ median income is $87,150. The median for a visiting/adjunct professor/instructor/lecturer is $63,000. Only 40% of U.S. IEEE members are tenured, and their median income is $125,000– compared to the $80,097 median salary for those not tenured, or on tenure tracks.
In 2013, geography continues to significantly affect an engineer’s income. In terms of IEEE regions, those in Region 1 (Northeast) and Region 6 (West) make substantially more than those in Region 3 (Southeast) or Region 4 (Central), with gaps of more than $17,000 in median primary income. Region 1 median primary income is $122,788, while it is $136,000 for Region 6. (The report also points out living costs are higher in the West than elsewhere in the United States.)
The 10 states for highest median income are California, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Texas, Massachusetts, Arizona, and New Mexico–each $125,000, or more. The bottom ten states are Nebraska, North Dakota, Indiana, Wyoming, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Hawaii, Ohio, and Tennessee–with $104,238, or less.
Healthcare, Other Benefits
Those employed full time continue to receive a broad assortment of health and insurance benefits, with more than nine in ten offered basic health, major medical, dental, and life and/or disability insurance coverage. Some benefits, such as long-term care insurance (71.5%) and well-baby care (85.8%), are offered less frequently, but the rates are up significantly, compared with 2012 findings.
In keeping with societal trends, only 33.2% of this year’s respondents have so-called defined-benefit retirement plans, which promise employees a certain amount, if they meet the terms of the plan, such as minimum number of years of service. In contrast, 55% of members who took the survey in 2001 reported having such a plan.
Profit-sharing plans are now offered by only 22.1% of employers, down from about 38% a decade ago. Benefits such as stock options and employee stock ownership plans are now offered to 23.7% and 22.3% of members who participated in the survey.
Of particular interest to U.S. IEEE members, 54.3% reported their employers pay their professional association membership fee. However, the percentage offered paid attendance for professional conferences has dropped ten points over the past decade, to 68.2%.
You can click on the title to purchase the complete IEEE-USA 2013 Salary & Benefits Survey. The member price is $125; non-members, $225.
Two versions of the companion Salary Calculator are now available; one is similar to the calculator that many U.S. IEEE members are familiar with, as it allows users to select from 14 drop-down windows, choose options, and it applies a regression model. The second calculator permits users to select various options, and pulls the real data directly, instead of applying a regression model.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991-2011, the first nine as staff director, IEEE Corporate Communications.