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2021 IEEE-USA Salary Survey: Income and Job Satisfaction are Up, But Disparities Grow

By Paul Lief Rosengren

IEEE-USA’s annual salary and benefits survey of members shows base salaries have generally increased 3% to 4% from 2020 to 2021, with the gap between male and female compensation growing — as well as the gap between compensation of White and Black respondents. The survey also shows that overall job satisfaction is the highest in more than 10 years.

The report, based on 7,662 responses to an online survey, includes details on compensation by Primary Area of Technical Competence (PATCs), region, state and metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. It also includes a comprehensive section on compensation in higher education, as well as on benefits received by members. It breaks down information by level of responsibility, age, education, gender, ethnic background and geographic location.  In addition to the median for each group, the report also offers information on the top and bottom deciles and quartiles.

IEEE-USA has conducted compensation surveys of its U.S. members since 1972. The complete, 63-page, 2021 IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey Report is available from the IEEE-USA shop. The member price is $125; non-members pay $225.

Despite the pandemic, median base compensation rose. For those working full time in their PATC, the total median base income was $154,443, up from $148,500, while median total income from all sources (salary, commissions, bonuses and net self-employment) was $160,000, up from $152,000 in 2019. The general Communications Technology PATCs continue to yield the highest median earnings ($171,800); while Energy and Power Engineering is at the bottom ($140,000).

The report noted that “Median income varies by employment sector, as well. Respondents working at nonprofit institutions and in private industry (defense and non-defense) earned top primary incomes in calendar year 2020; while those working in educational institutions, and state and local government, earned the least.”

Higher salaries were reported in the subspecialties of consumer electronics; broadcast technology; solid-state circuits; and hardware design and hardware support (all at $180,000, or more). The most lucrative lines of business are currently Mobile Technology, Computers and Software Technology. Those working in Metals, Education and Electrical/Electronic Services typically earn the least.

The report noted that, “Women’s salaries continue to trail men’s, even considering experience levels.” Overall, the gap between median base income between genders is $28,000, up $5,500 from last year’s gap.  Of respondents, 88% were male, 12% were female.

The salary gap between Whites and Blacks also increased in 2020. Overall, Whites earned $24,000 more than Blacks. This gap is $2,000 larger than in the previous report.

A good salary remains the most important factor for members when thinking about their overall career — with 94% listing it as important, or very important — though long-term stability has a higher “very important” response (61%, compared to salary, at 60%).

The report showed three ways to increase base income: moving into management, earning advanced degrees, and working for larger companies.

As in the past, members whose roles emphasize management have greater compensation. General management earned a median of $195,000 in income from primary sources, more than $40,500 over the median for all respondents; technical management earned a median of $180,000.

Respondents with Ph.D. and MBA degrees earned the highest incomes. Respondents with a Ph.D. had a median income of $168,000; those with an MBA were close behind, at $167,000. The gap widens significantly with years of experience: a Ph.D. with 30 years of experience earns a salary of $197,000; an MBA with 30 years of experience earns a median income of $185,000; and a respondent with a bachelor’s degree, with the same experience, earns $163,000.

Nearly one-third of the survey respondents hold a Ph.D., while 16% of those responding are registered professional engineers (P.E.s). Larger firms pay best, with base salaries that are $16,557 more than the overall median. Thirty percent of respondents work for a firm with more than 10,000 employees, while another 36 % work for organizations with 501 to 10,000 employees.

The report has a wealth of additional non-salary information, as well, including:

  • The typical member reported working 45 hours per week in 2020 with 14% working 50 hours per week, or more.
  • More than eight in ten members indicated they are fully vested in at least one retirement plan. However, 34% are vested in two or more.
  • Nearly one in six members reported receiving stock options in 2020 from their employers. For those who received them, the median estimated value was $25,000.

The 2021 IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey is the 34th compensation study IEEE-USA has published.

Paul Lief Rosengren has a Master of Public Policy (MPP) from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard. He has spent the past three decades conducting strategic communications for NBC, the State of New Jersey, PSE&G and BD.


Paul Lief Rosengren

Paul Lief Rosengren is a frequent contributor to IEEE-USA InSight and author of the Famous Women Engineers in History series. He also co-authored In the Time of COVID: One Hospital’s Struggles and Triumphs about the first year of COVID at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, NJ. Rosengren previously worked in internal and external communications for the State of New Jersey, NBC, PSEG, and BD. While at PSEG, he was a founding member of the PSEG Diversity Council, initiated and facilitated the PSEG D&I Book Club and received the PR News Diversity Award.

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