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November 13, 2000
Volume 78, Number 46
CENEAR 78 46 p.47
ISSN 0009-2347
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Solid salary gains and a lively job market forecast for chemical professionals

Michael Heylin
C&EN Washington

This has been an unusually busy year for those who track and study the financial and professional status of chemists and chemical engineers. A remarkably large volume of data from a variety of sources has been generated. Overall, the indications are that chemical professionals are generally doing well and should continue to do so.

There are jobs out there for chemists and chemical engineers in an active and shifting employment market. The economy remains good. Demand for chemists and chemical engineers is high. Recruitment activity is strong. Many graduates can pick and choose among job offers. And starting salaries have moved up sharply.

Unemployment among chemists, at 2.0%, is about half the national jobless rate, even if it remains above the very low rate of about 1.0% recorded during very strong economic times a decade ago.

Most--if by no means all--chemists retiring these days are doing so voluntarily and are reasonably satisfied with their pensions and their careers. And the prognosis for increasing numbers of jobs in the chemical profession is encouraging.

Salary gains throughout the chemical profession have been solid for several years, with a median annual increase for chemists as individuals holding at about 5%, twice the rate of inflation.

The median salary for working American Chemical Society members reached $70,000 this year, with bachelor's degree holders at $53,100, master's degree holders at $62,000, and Ph.D.s at $79,000. And the salaries of chemists remain in the mid- to upper range compared with those of other scientists.

In a typical year, data on the salaries and employment status of chemical professionals come largely from ACS's long-established annual surveys of new chemistry and chemical engineering graduates at all degree levels ( C&EN, March 13, page 12 ) and of ACS members in the domestic workforce ( C&EN, Aug. 14, page 46 ). ACS defines the chemical workforce as U.S.-based members who have full- or part-time jobs, who are on postdocs or fellowships, or who are unemployed but seeking employment.

The member survey this year was actually a census--ChemCensus 2000--in that the survey questionnaire was sent to all of ACS's 94,000 working members, not just a sample. Returns totaled almost 48,000. In recent times, censuses have been taken every five years.

This year, ACS has also completed and published a detailed study tracing and quantifying how chemists fare in their transition from the peak of their careers to retirement (C&EN, June 5, page 42). Dubbed the Mature Career Chemist Survey, it is based on a questionnaire sent late last year to a sample of just more than 5,000 of ACS's 37,000 domestic members between 50 and 69 years of age.

In addition to this augmented effort by ACS, 2000 has also been marked by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' biennial survey of the salary and employment of its domestic members. This year also saw publication of the 2000 edition of the National Science Foundation's biennial "Science and Engineering Indicators," with its very detailed analysis of the scientific and engineering workforce. And late last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with its employment outlook for 1998 through 2008.

The results from this year's study of the salaries and employment status of working ACS members confirm the value of periodically having a census that seeks information from ACS's entire target population. The data on salaries that censuses provide are more reliable, especially for subsets of membership, than are data from the usual annual surveys based on about 10,000 returns from questionnaires sent to a random sample of about 20,000 working members.

Comparing data from the 1995 census and the 2000 census reveals that the median salary for all ACS members with full-time jobs rose from $59,700 to this year's $70,000. This represents an average annual growth rate of 3.2%, comfortably higher than the 2.5% average annual growth in the Consumer Price Index. This edge over inflation indicates that the benefits of the longest and strongest boom in U.S. history continue to trickle down to the workers who are generating it. It also makes up for a period in the late '80s and early '90s when median salary gains for chemists fell shy of the inflation rate.

The 1995/2000 census comparison also shows that the annual growth rates in the median full-time salaries of subgroups--for example, men, women, bachelor's degree holders in government, master's degree holders in industry, and so on--are reasonably close to the overall 3.2% rate. With one exception, they fall in the relatively narrow range of 2.7 to 3.9%. The exception is bachelor's in academia with an apparent average annual growth of 8.1%. This result might well be an anomaly due to the small size of the grouping.

These results contrast sharply with the far more scattered findings typically obtained from year-to-year comparisons generated by the regular, smaller annual surveys. For instance, the 1999 survey indicated that the salary gain over 1998 was 5.7% for master's chemists but only 1.0% for bachelor's. It also showed an apparent 6.9% gain for chemists in government, but only 1.9% for those in academia.

For the next year, 1999/2000, the salary gains by degree are reversed. For bachelor's chemists, the gain is 6.0%, compared with the 1.0% for 1998/1999. For master's, it is 1.6%, down from the year-earlier 5.7%. There is a similar reversal for government chemists, with a gain of 2.2%, down from 6.9% a year earlier, and for academic chemists, with a jump to 5.5% from the year-earlier 1.9% increase.

The median salary of chemists determined each year by ACS is the salary of the chemist right at the epicenter of the profession--with equal numbers of chemists receiving more pay and less pay. In a population as large and as demographically stable as the chemical profession, this virtual median chemist--like Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang--changes either not at all or only minimally from one year to the next.

Hence, no matter how they are determined, the year-to-year increases in the median salaries of all chemists or large groups of chemists understate the actual median salary increases for chemists as individuals who grow older, gain in experience and responsibility, and periodically get promoted.

The median salary increases for real chemists can be derived directly each year from answers to the questions asking respondents for their salaries as of March 1 of the current year and the previous year. Measured this way, these increases have been very consistent, both year-to-year, by degree, and by nature of employer. This is because they are derived from hard salary data for both years provided by the same set of respondents to a single survey.

Over the past five years, these increases have largely fallen in the 4 to 5% range. This means that the median annual salary of individual chemists has been moving upward about twice as fast as has inflation to yield a substantial 12% real gain in constant-dollar earnings over the period. However, percentage salary gains do decline steadily with age. This year, the average gain for 20- to 29-year-olds is 8.2% but for 60- to 69-year-olds, 3.8%.

An independent confirmation of the salary gains of individual chemists comes from comparing the salary medians by age groups in the 1995 census with the medians for the corresponding five-year-older groups in the 2000 census. For instance, the median for those five to nine years beyond their bachelor's degree in the 1995 census was $41,000. By the time of the 2000 census, this cohort had evolved into the 10- to 14-year category with a median salary of $60,000. This translates into an average annual growth rate of 7.9%. For older chemists evolving from the 20- to 24-year group in 1995 to the 25- to 29-year category in 2000, the average annual gain was 4.3%.

The more extensive information from the periodic censuses helps quantify the progress women chemists have been making toward more equitable salaries. For instance, the 1985 census indicated that the near parity in salaries that young women industrial Ph.D. chemists enjoyed with their male counterparts did not hold for their older colleagues. That year, the median salary of the women 10 to 14 years beyond their bachelor's degree was 95% that of their male counterparts. However, this slipped to 91%, 88%, and 80% for women in the progressively higher age brackets of 15 to 19, 20 to 24, and 25 to 29 years beyond the bachelor's degree, respectively.

In the 1990 census, near parity of at least 95% held until 15 to 19 years beyond the bachelor's degree. For the 1995 census, it was attained for women in the next, 20- to 24-year, group, at 95%. In the 2000 census, it was almost attained for the 25- to 29-year group, at 94%. Beyond this, women Ph.D.s working for industry are still at a salary disadvantage--for instance, those 30 to 34 years beyond their bachelor's degree make only 82% of what their male counterparts do.

Another way of looking at these data is that the near equality of salaries, by gender, that has long been the case for new women Ph.D. graduates hired by industry, has now diffused up through the first 20 or so career years, with, according to the 2000 census, the median salary for women averaging about 96% that of men throughout this period.

Progress has been slower for women in industry who hold a bachelor's degree. Median salaries for women 10 to 14 years beyond their degree have moved up from 88% that of men in 1985 to 97% this year. However, this seems to be about the upper limit for parity. Above it, women are still earning only about 87% as much as men.

As with many things, master's degree holders fall in between, with salaries for women in industry drifting down from 96% that of men for new hires to about 90% for those 20 years into their careers.

The employment data from the 2000 census give further evidence of what already is a long-term trend and may even be a permanent shift in the employment situation for chemists that has evolved over the past decade.

In 1990, a good economic year and a good year for chemists, 95.3% of members responding to the ACS census had a full-time job. Of the 4.7% who didn't, 2.2% were on postdocs or fellowships, 1.4% were employed part time, and 1.1% were unemployed but seeking employment.

By 1995, a rather poor year for chemists, the percentage of chemists without full-time employment was up sharply to 8.9%--3.6% on postdocs or fellowships, 2.7% employed part time, and 2.6% unemployed but seeking employment.

The 2000 census indicates that for the third year in a row--and during an unprecedented and prolonged economic boom--a surprisingly high 7.1% of chemists are still without full-time jobs, with 3.0% employed part time, 2.1% on postdocs or fellowships, and 2.0% looking for a job.

There are probably a number of factors behind this significant shift since 1990 toward a more lively employment market for chemists with higher job turnover and more chemists between jobs or otherwise less than fully employed at any one time. To wit:

The expanding opportunities for chemists in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, life sciences, and an array of other fast-moving, technology-driven fields.

The decline in the number of one-employer careers.

The continuing, if less frequent, mass layoffs and involuntary terminations of chemists due to downsizing.

The more volatile job situation for mature chemists, with many receiving a pension while still well shy of the traditional retirement age of 65 but staying on in the workforce.

The trend toward more flexible work schedules and lifestyles--witness the doubling of the percentage of chemists with part-time jobs since 1990.

According to the ACS starting salary survey, as of Oct. 12, 1999, the median salary of inexperienced 1998-99 Ph.D. graduates with full-time permanent jobs was $61,000. For new master's degree chemists it was $42,000, and for bachelor's, $30,000. Inexperienced chemists are those with less than 12 months of professional work experience prior to graduation.

These data reflect the sharp improvement since 1996 in the fortunes of the annual entry class into the chemistry profession. For instance, the median salary for members of the 1995-96 class of new Ph.D. chemists who managed to find a full-time permanent job was $45,000. This was down from $50,000 for the year-earlier class and $1,000 less than for the 1990-91 class.

The median of $61,000 for 1998-99 Ph.D. graduates represents an almost 36% increase over 1995-96 for an average annual growth rate of 10.7%. The corresponding three-year gain for the other degrees has been less spectacular but still substantial. For new bachelor's degree chemists, it has been 20%, or 6.3% per year, and for master's, 24%, or 7.3% per year.

Of all new chemistry Ph.D. graduates, 43% had full-time permanent jobs as of Oct. 12, 1999, while 46% were on postdocs or fellowships. Of new master's degree graduates, 53% had full-time jobs and 31% were in graduate or professional school. For bachelor's degree chemists, the breakdown was 36% and 44%, respectively.

Again, these data show three years of improvement. For instance, of the 1995-96 chemistry class, 35% of Ph.D.s and 46% of chemists with master's degrees had found full-time permanent jobs.

The Mature Career Chemist Survey was conducted during 1999. It involved sending a 49-question booklet to slightly more than 5,000 ACS members living in the U.S. who were between 50 and 69 years old. The response rate was about 55%. The findings largely confirm and quantify a number of things that would be expected.

A substantial majority, 69%, of the chemists receiving pensions had initiated them and so likely retired voluntarily. Of the others, 77% were terminated through downsizing.

Those who retire voluntarily are generally far more satisfied with their pensions, their retirement overall, and their careers. For instance, of those who initiated their pension, only 18% deemed it inadequate. Of those who did not initiate, 48% were dissatisfied.

Similarly, only 3.5% of those initiating pensions, but 18% of those not initiating, were dissatisfied with their retirement overall.

Chemists in industry are far more likely to be terminated early and involuntarily (44%) than are chemists in academia (11%) and government (10%). However, industrial chemists retain a significant financial advantage at all age levels, with a median base salary of $90,000. This compares with medians of $70,000 for academics and $74,200 for those in government.

The returns also show a large salary advantage for men, with a median base salary of $83,000 compared with $67,300 for women. Part of this differential is due to women respondents on average being two years younger than male respondents. Despite this, the advantage for men indicated by this study remains very real, as it is based on returns from men and women in the older age groups where year-to-year salary gains tend to be small.

Full-time employment for chemists starts to drop off quickly after about age 60, and almost half are receiving a pension before 65. However, 46% of 65- to 69-year-olds are still in the workforce in one way or another, even though 80% of them have a pension.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers' (AIChE) Salary Survey 2000 is based on almost 2,900 responses to a questionnaire sent to a random sample of 9,500 of the institute's members. Comparing results with those from ChemCensus 2000 confirms that chemical engineers responding to AIChE's survey are younger (median age 42) than chemists responding to the ACS survey (44). They are also less likely to be female--14% compared with 25%--and they are much less likely to have a Ph.D.--21% compared with 60%.

Chemical engineers are better paid by a considerable margin, especially at the bachelor's degree level, where, according to the AIChE survey, they enjoyed a median base salary of $70,000 for the year 1999. This compares with the median of $53,100 as of March 1, 2000, for bachelor's chemists responding to the ACS survey. Allowing for age differences would make the advantage for chemical engineers even larger.

The difference is about the same for those with master's degrees, with medians of $80,000 for chemical engineers and $62,000 for chemists. At the Ph.D. level, chemists are more competitive--a median of $79,000 versus the $85,000 for chemical engineers.

These medians for chemical engineers from the AIChE survey are generally in line with the median salaries for the 2,000 chemical engineers who are ACS members and responded to ChemCensus 2000. For them, the medians were $67,000 at the bachelor's degree level, $77,500 at the master's degree level, and $88,000 at the Ph.D. level.

How well chemists and chemical engineers do financially compared with other scientists and engineers is detailed in NSF's "Science and Engineers Indicators 2000."

Analysis of the data on 1997 median salaries presented in the report indicates that chemical engineers do particularly well. At the bachelor's and master's levels, they top the rankings at $62,000 and $70,000, respectively. For Ph.D.s, they are second, at $72,100, to physicists and astronomers, at $73,000.

Chemists do well at the Ph.D. level with a median of $70,000. This is well above the median for all Ph.D. scientists, $60,000, and the $55,000 for social scientists. It is also more than the $65,000 median for computer scientists.

However, bachelor's degree and master's degree chemists fall somewhat off the pace. The median for bachelor's chemists is $41,300, only two-thirds that of chemical engineers and well below the $50,000 for all bachelor's scientists. The median of $50,000 for master's chemists is only 70% that for chemical engineers and below the $54,000 for all master's scientists.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment outlook for 1998 to 2008, published early this year, has some good tidings for chemical professionals. The fortunes of all workers, including chemists, rise and fall in the long run with the overall tide of the number of jobs in the economy.

In the nine years since the quite bad recession of 1991, the total number of people with jobs in this country has grown by 17.5 million--from 117.6 million to 135.1 million. According to the BLS forecast, total jobs will continue to grow at just about this pace, reaching about 150 million by 2008. This would be a 14.4% gain over 1998.

BLS pegs the 1998-08 growth in jobs in chemistry at essentially the same rate--13.9%. And other fields in which those trained in chemistry find work are in for greater growth; for instance, 35% for biological scientists (the category that includes biochemists), 26% for life scientists, and 25% for medical scientists.


Median salary of most groups of chemists rises at close to 3% . . .

Increase 1995-00
  Median salary,
$ thousands
    1995     2000 Amount Percent Average
annual increase
ALL $59.7 $70.0 $10.3 17.3% 3.2%
Industry 62.3 74.5 12.2 19.6 3.6
Government 58.0 70.0 12.0 20.7 3.8
Academia 50.0 58.0 8.0 16.0 3.0
B.S. 45.4 53.1 7.7 17.0 3.2
M.S. 53.5 62.0 8.5 15.9 3.0
Ph.D. 66.0 79.0 13.0 19.7 3.7
Men 62.0 74.1 12.1 19.5 3.6
Women 47.0 56.0 9.0 19.1 3.6
Industry 47.0 54.2 7.2 15.3 2.9
Government 45.0 53.7 8.7 19.3 3.6
Academia 27.0 40.0 13.0 48.0 8.1
Industry 57.4 65.5 8.1 14.1 2.7
Government 51.8 61.5 9.7 18.7 3.5
Academia 38.0 45.0 7.0 18.4 3.4
Industry 72.4 86.2 13.8 19.1 3.6
Government 66.0 80.0 14.0 21.2 3.9
Academia 52.5 60.0 7.5 14.3 2.7
Consumer Price Index 151.4 171.2 19.8 13.1 2.5

Note: Median base pay for chemists with full-time jobs.


. . . as annual pay gains for individual chemists holds around 5%

Industry Government Academia
B.S. M.S. Ph.D. B.S. M.S. Ph.D. B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
1995 5.9% 5.4% 5.4% 4.7% 4.7% 4.9% 5.5%5.1% 5.7%
1996 5.0 4.4 4.7 3.8 3.8 3.3 4.1 3.7 4.1
1997 4.9 4.7 4.8 4.0 3.9 3.6 5.1 4.2 4.0
1998 5.1 4.8 5.0 4.7 4.1 3.7 4.4 3.9 4.0
1999 5.4 5.0 5.0 4.0 3.9 4.5 4.8 3.9 4.2
2000 5.3 4.9 5.0 4.9 4.9 5.0 4.6 4.1 4.2

Sources: 1995 and 2000 salary and employment censuses of ACS members, 1996 through 1999 salary and employment surveys


Many chemists over 60 who have a pension still work

Employment status
(over 50)
50-54 55-59 60-64 65-69
Full-time permanent 63.9% 89.0% 80.9% 50.4% 17.8%
Full-time temporary 0.9 1.4 0.6 1.2 0.3
Part-time 4.6 2.1 2.0 6.6 8.9
Self-employed 8.3 3.1 4.6 11.0 18.5
Unemployed but seeking  employment 2.1 1.9 3.0 2.4 0.5
Unemployed and not  seeking employment 20.3 2.6 8.9 28.3 54.1
Receiving a pension 32.7 4.6 18.0 46.1 79.8

Source: ACS Mature Career Chemist Survey 1999


Chemists' salaries are most competitive at the Ph.D. level

Median salary,
$ thousands
Chemical engineers $62.0
All engineers 55.0
Computer/math 54.0
All scientists 50.0
Earth sciences 46.5
Physical sciences 42.0
Chemistry 41.3
Physics/astronomy 42.0
Environmental life sciences 41.0
Agriculture/food science 37.0
Life-related science 36.0
Biological sciences 35.0
Social sciences 25.0
Chemical engineers $70.0
All engineers 63.6
Computer/math 60.0
Physics/astronomy 58.0
All scientists 54.0
Earth sciences 53.0
Environmental life sciences 52.0
Physical sciences 51.0
Chemistry 50.0
Life-related science 42.0
Biological sciences 42.0
Social sciences 41.1
Agriculture/food sciences 40.0
Physics/astronomy $73.0
Chemical engineers 72.1
All engineers 72.0
Chemistry 70.0
Computer/math 65.0
Physical sciences 65.0
Earth sciences 62.0
All scientists 60.0
Agriculture/food sciences 60.0
Environmental life sciences 59.0
Life-related sciences 57.5
Biological sciences 55.0
Social sciences 55.0

Note: Median full-time salaries as of 1997. Source: National Science Foundation; Science and Engineering Indicators 2000


Chemists who initiate their pension are more likely to judge it as adequate . . .

Initiated pension Did not initiate pension
More than adequate   Adequate Less than adequate More than adequate   Adequate Less than adequate
ALL 15.6% 66.1% 18.3% 6.8% 44.8% 48.3%
Bachelor's 9.6 71.8 18.6 3.7 47.9 48.3
Master's 14.5 60.1 25.5 4.2 39.9 56.0
Ph.D. 17.6 66.2 16.2 9.4 45.2 45.4
Men 15.9 66.5 17.6 7.2 44.6 48.2
Women 11.9 61.2 26.8 1.6 48.2 50.2
50-54 36.2 45.1 18.6 30.9 41.2 27.8
55-59 5.9 69.9 24.2 2.3 45.9 51.9
60-64 14.5 65.9 19.6 9.1 47.9 43.0
65-69 18.8 66.1 15.1 3.4 41.3 55.3
Industry 16.1 58.7 25.2 6.9 41.6 51.5
Government 10.1 77.8 12.2 12.3 52.7 35.0
Academia 18.7 73.6 7.7 0 85.2 14.8

. . . and are more likely to be satisfied with their retirement overall

Initiated pension Did not initiate pension
Satisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Dissatisfied
Very Moderately Moderately Very Very Moderately Moderately Very
ALL 68.7% 27.8% 2.6% 0.9% 42.3% 40.0% 12.6% 5.1%
Bachelor's 67.1 27.3 4.6 1.0 41.5 40.2 14.7 3.6
Master's 64.8 27.6 6.4 1.3 38.5 37.1 15.3 9.2
Ph.D. 70.2 28.2 0.9 0.7 44.2 41.0 10.5 4.4
Men 69.1 27.7 2.5 0.8 41.8 40.1 13.2 4.9
Women 63.1 31.3 3.3 1.9 50.5 37.9 3.7 3.4
50-54 79.0 16.0 5.1 0 24.8 50.7 4.4 20.1
55-59 68.2 25.8 2.2 3.8 45.2 27.6 19.0 8.2
60-64 68.3 29.1 2.3 0.3 36.1 46.4 11.3 6.2
65-69 68.6 28.3 2.7 0.3 50.2 35.9 12.9 1.0
Industry 68.9 29.0 1.7 0.5 43.1 38.8 12.3 5.8
Government 65.0 30.5 4.1 0.3 46.4 49.4 4.1 0
Academia 73.6 22.4 1.9 2.1 9.1 37.3 48.5 5.1

Source: ACS Mature Career Chemist Survey 1999


Salaries, employment, and ACS

The American Chemical Society is singularly diligent when it comes to studying and monitoring the professional and career status and interests of its members. Its annual surveys of the starting salaries of new chemistry and chemical engineering graduates and of its working members are unique in their frequency and thoroughness.

In addition, the society conducts occasional special studies, such as this year's survey of mature members from 50 to 69 years old. Upcoming next year is an early-career study of ACS members under the age of 40.

All surveys are conducted by the ACS Department of Career Services under the general guidance of the Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs. They are supervised by Senior Research Analyst Mary W. Jordan.

This activity is apparently well appreciated by ACS members. Answers to a series of questions in the questionnaire for the mature chemist study (C&EN, June 5, page 44) indicate that respondents ranked "salary and employment surveys" fifth highest of 27 ACS products and services in terms of the personal benefit they receive. They also ranked the surveys fifth in terms of their importance to the profession.

In both cases, the surveys were outranked only by Chemical & Engineering News, the society's technical publications, Chemical Abstracts Service, and the national meetings.

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Questions and comments on any of the ACS surveys should be addressed to Pamela Steiner at (202) 872-6153. Full reports of the surveys are available by calling (800) 227-5558. "Starting Salaries 1998" costs $29.95. Parts of the surveys are available free online at

Four special publications on the results from ChemCensus 2000 will be available free of charge to members early next year. The full report on the mature chemists study is available now.

By the end of this year, the department will also offer online a salary estimator, based on data from ACS surveys. It will yield salary estimates based on a member's characteristics--highest degree, work specialty, type of employer, years since bachelor's degree, and the like.

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