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2020 IEEE-USA Salary Survey: Job Satisfaction is Up, But Real Income Flat – with Some Glaring Disparities

By Helen Horwitz

First, here is the good news: The latest results from the engineering world’s largest salary and benefits survey show U.S. IEEE members are enjoying the highest levels of job satisfaction in more than a decade.

According to the IEEE-USA 2020 Salary & Benefits Survey, conducted this past March, U.S. IEEE members are feeling especially content about these aspects of their work: It is meaningful to the company, respected by peers, and offers the right amount of technical challenge.

Next, the not-as-good news: The typical member’s median pre-tax income from all primary sources, including salary, commissions, bonuses and self-employment, was $148,500 — up from $145,000 in 2018. That’s a 2.4% increase, leaving real income virtually flat over the previous year.

And now, the bad news: Salaries for women and minority groups not only haven’t improved, but the gaps have widened between them and “typical” Caucasian male engineers. Even when experience is factored in, difference in median primary income between men and women was $22,500 — 18% more than the $19,000 gap in 2018.

Racial disparities regarding income also grew. Overall, Caucasians earned $22,000 more than African Americans. This gap is $2,500 more than in the previous year’s report.

Highly Regarded

While other engineering salary reports are available, the IEEE-USA survey is possibly the most highly regarded because of its long life. This year marks the 33rd such survey; and it has been conducted most years since 1972. The study has been conducted online since 2001, and draws a substantial volume of responses, ensuring its statistical validity. For 2020, the report contains data from a total of 8,209 IEEE member participants, including 5,993 employed full time in their primary areas of technical competence (PATC) — the most relevant group from both employer and employee standpoints.


The IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey is comprehensive; it includes differences in each respondent’s income, technology sector, level of responsibility, age, education, gender, ethnic background, geographic location, and a great deal more. Specific questions are included for the roughly 10% of U.S IEEE members who are academics. Members who indicate that at least half of their earned income is from fee-based consulting are not included; instead, they are sent the IEEE-USA Consultants Fee Survey.

2020 Major Results

This year, the typical respondent is a male about 50 years old; he has an advanced degree, and about 23 years of professional experience. He is at the fifth or sixth of nine possible levels of professional responsibility; and he supervises a handful of other people, both professionals and support staff.

The vast majority (90.6%) of the 2020 Salary Survey respondents are currently working; 9.4% were not employed as of 1 January 2020. Of those currently working, almost all (95.5%) are working full time, and the rest, part time. Of the 9.4% not employed, 28.2% are involuntarily unemployed, and are assumed to be looking for jobs.

Results for gender, ethnicity and citizenship measurements are similar to those of recent years. Most respondents (89.2%) are male; 76.2% describe themselves as non-Hispanic White. The report notes that over the years, U.S. IEEE members “have become somewhat more diverse, but the change is slow.”

Asians and Pacific Islanders are the largest minority group (12.3%) of members in the workforce, with Hispanics, non-Hispanic African-Americans, and American Indians/Alaskan Natives accounting for 4.6%, 2.4%, and 0.8% respectively.

Some 76.2% workforce members are U.S. citizens by birth; 13.8% are naturalized citizens, and 4.8% are permanent resident aliens. Another 2.5% hold H-1B visas, while 2.7% hold another type of visa.


Income Data

The survey provides data on income from primary sources for 10 broad areas of technical competence, as well as subgroups within these broad areas. As with prior surveys, earned income was measured for the year preceding the survey’s date of record — so, the 2020 survey reports income earned in 2019.

Median 2019 primary compensation was highest for those in the general Communications Technology primary areas of technical competence (PATCs), with median earnings of $164,750. Energy and Power Engineering ranks lowest with $132,200. Specific subspecialties in Communications Technology are especially well-paid; they include consumer electronics; aerospace and electronic systems; and audio and acoustic signal processing. All are at $175,000, or more, per year.

The employment sector remains significant in defining an engineer’s salary. According to the survey, private industry still pays the most, with medians of $160,525 at defense-related companies, and $157,342 at companies other than defense or utilities. On average, those earning the least work for state or local government ($105,000), or an educational institution ($116,730).

The largest firms — those with more than 10,000 employees — tend to pay the best, with a median salary of $157,318. In the upper and highest quartiles at these firms, salaries are $205,000 and $261,673, respectively.

Not surprising, management jobs still yield the highest median primary salary. The effect of position responsibility is meaningful; this year, the median salary for general management is $185,000, and for technical management, $172,500. For those working in marketing or sales, the median salary is $164,000. When the years of professional and/or managerial experience is factored in, the effect of responsibility in the position is significant. This year’s survey shows $170,000 as the median income for those with 35-39 years of professional/managerial experience.

Nearly a third (30.1%) of the survey respondents hold a Ph.D.; another 41.4% indicate a BSEE/BSCE or MSEE/MSCE degree as their highest degree. At present, 15.3% of the responding members are registered professional engineers (P.E.s). Although professional registration is required for practicing engineers in most other countries, it is not essential for most EEs in the United States. However, many U.S. engineering sectors, such as consulting and power engineering, require these credentials.

Members in Academia

Since 2005, the IEEE-USA Salary Survey has included questions specifically for members who are part of this small, but important, sector. This year, 13.7% indicated that a degree-granting institution was their primary employer. Of this group, 55.6% are on a nine- or 10-month contract; 31.9% are on an 11- or 12-month contract, and 12.6% have another arrangement. One-third of this group (33.4%) are full professors; 15.3% are associate professors, or assistant professors (16.3%). Another 9.6% have a non-teaching research appointment. Overall, only 41.7% are tenured, with an additional 15.5% more on a tenure track. The majority (79.2%) work at public or private institutions that grant doctoral degrees.

Areas of Concern

The survey points out that after modest gains in the 1970s and 1980s, the proportion of female EEs has plateaued at about 8-9% for the past five years. Their salaries continue to trail those of men substantially, even when working full time in their PATC. In addition, while the profession slowly continues to grow more diverse racially and ethnically, 76% of members classify themselves as white; non-Hispanics are 19 points lower than in the inaugural Salary Survey in 1972.

Retirement and Health Benefits

Employers offer U.S. members who work full time a broad array of benefits, although some shifts have occurred in the primary benefit categories: pension and retirement, health and insurance, and miscellaneous (which includes support for professional association dues and conferences).

In keeping with the societal trend, employers offered only 32% of respondents in this year’s survey “defined benefit” (pension) retirement plans, which promise an employee a certain amount — if they meet the terms of the plan (such as a minimum number of years of service). In 2001, employers offered 55% of full-time workers this type of plan. Moreover, even as pensions are declining, the percentage of respondents offered defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, has remained essentially flat since 2001, at 92.4% in the current survey.

Employers are offering virtually all full-time workers extensive health benefits. Well over 90% may enroll in basic health and dental insurance, both for themselves and their dependents, along with prescription drug coverage.

Much as in last year’s survey, more than half (54.6%) are offered professional association membership fees. More than 85% of full-time workers are offered flexible working hours, and almost three-fourths (74.8%) are offered telework — up from 64.2% in 2019.

Work Satisfaction

Since 1997, the IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey has measured members’ general satisfaction with their work. This survey area employs a common satisfaction scale, with points from +2 to -2.

After peaking in the 2001 survey, satisfaction levels decreased in 2005 — but have increased every year since. In fact, the 2020 survey shows the highest levels of job satisfaction in more than a decade, with four new questions added to gauge additional areas of job contentment. Members are most satisfied with their work being meaningful to the company (+1.14); their work is respected by peers (+1.13); and the technical challenges of their job (+1.09). They are least satisfied with advancement opportunities (+.50) — with a smaller proportion discontented with current compensation (+.70).

The complete IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey is available from the IEEE-USA shop. The member price is $125; non-members pay $225.

Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as staff director, IEEE Corporate Communications.

Helen Horwitz

Helen Horwitz was an award-winning freelance writer in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.

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