Chemical & Engineering News,
May 29, 1995

Copyright © 1995 by the American Chemical Society.

Chemists' Job Market Still Weak But Those Employed Post Solid Pay Gains

Percentage of chemists with other than full-time jobs has doubled over the past six years, with big surges for unemployed, postdocs, and part-timers

Michael Heylin,

C&EN Washington

Results from the latest American Chemical Society annual survey of the salaries and employment status of its members are mixed. The numbers indicate that the employment situation is continuing to erode, but salaries seem to be holding their own. Of those responding to this year's survey, 88.8% have full-time jobs. In 1989 - the last reasonably prosperous year for both the chemical industry and the chemical community in general - 94.5% of those responding were working full time.

This means that the percentage of ACS members of working age who do not have full-time jobs has more than doubled in the past six years and now exceeds one in nine. For women chemists, it is one in six.

Compared with last year, the percentage of chemists actually unemployed but seeking employment has dropped a notch, from 2.6% to 2.5%. But the total of respondents who are unemployed, working part time, on postdocs or fellowships, or who have dropped out of the workforce has risen from 10.0% in the 1994 survey to 11.2% this year.

Trends in the salaries of chemists have been less dramatic. The median salary of chemists employed full time and responding to this year's survey is $59,700, up from $57,900 in 1994. This represents a 3.1% gain that marginally exceeds the 2.9% increase in the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers. The $59,700 for this year also represents an average 3.9% annual gain over the $47,300 level in 1989. This is again slightly above the rate of increase in the cost of living - an average 3.6% per year for the period.

This year's survey was sent to all ACS members living in the U.S. who were not more than 70 years old and who were not rated as either retirees or students by the society - a total of 93,500. Almost 50,300 responded, including 45,500 chemists and 2,700 chemical engineers. The data are as of March 1, as they are every year. All salary and employment data in this article are for the chemist cohort only.

Because this year's survey was sent to the entire target population, it allows for more detailed analyses. For most years, data are collected from a random sample of about 20,000. In 1994, almost 9,800 responded.

Of the chemists responding to this year's survey, 24.5% have a bachelor's degree as their highest degree in chemistry. Another 17.0% hold a master's degree in chemistry and 58.5% a doctorate. By gender, 78.2% are men, 21.8% women. By employment, 25.1% are in academia, 57.4% work in industry, 7.9% are government employees, and 9.6% work in other nonacademic jobs. By race and ethnicity, 84.7% are white, 10.1% Asian, 2.2% Hispanic, 1.4% black, 0.2% American Indian, and 1.3% indicated "other." Comparison with ACS's membership statistics suggests that Ph.D. chemists are more likely to respond to the survey than are their B.S. colleagues.

These annual surveys are conducted by ACS's Department of Career Services. A full report, "Salaries 1995," will be available in September at $150 per copy from the American Chemical Society, Product Services, 1155 - 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036; phone (202) 872-4363. Questions on the data should be directed to Corinne Marasco at (202) 872-4438.


How permanent the change in the profile of chemical employment will turn out to be remains to be seen. But the prognosis for a quick return to the fuller employment levels of the late 1980s seems poor.

Although chemical makers are doing very well financially this year, there are no signs they are ready to start rebuilding a scientific workforce depleted in recent times by stringent restructuring and cost-saving programs. The drug industry, another major employer of chemists, is today facing its own cycle of mergers, cost cutting, and staff streamlining. The government is not planning to hire a lot of scientists these days. And federal funding for research and development is slated for some lean and even declining years.

Results from ACS surveys from 1987 to 1989, all quite good years for the chemical community, indicated that the number of respondents who did not have full-time jobs hovered between 5.5 and 5.7%. This breaks down as 1.5% working part time, 2% on postdocs or fellowships, 1% unemployed but seeking a job, and another 1% unemployed but not seeking work.

The most jarring increase from these apparently minimal levels has been in the numbers of chemists not employed. This has risen from a total of 1.9% of respondents in 1989 to 5.1% this year. This year's total consists of 2.5% who are seeking employment and 2.6% who are not.

Having only about 2.5% of the chemical workforce not employed but seeking employment may not seem too bad. It compares well with the current national unemployment rate of almost 6%. But the unemployment rate of chemists, as measured by the annual ACS surveys, has always been a particularly sensitive indicator of the job situation throughout the profession. An increase from 1% to 2.5% means a shift from a quite good job market to a relatively poor one, as today.

The growth in the number of chemists working part time has also been substantial. In the late 1980s, the rate hovered very close to 1.5%. This year, 2.6% of respondents hold such jobs. And the number of chemists in postdoc positions or on fellowships has also increased sharply to 3.5% from the apparently optimum 2%.

Women chemists traditionally do less well than men in the job market. But they are particularly hard hit now. According to this year's survey, 16.5% of women are without full-time employment. This compares with 9.7% for men. Women are more likely to have part-time jobs, 5.5%, compared with 1.8% for men. And the total of women not employed, 6.6%, exceeds that of men, 4.6%, by a substantial margin.

Another indicator of the continued weakness of the chemical job market is the 6.8% of respondents indicating that they were unemployed at some time during 1994. The corresponding number for 1993 was 4.2%.

The bigger data set this year yields an analysis of how minority chemists are faring in the employment market. Black chemists are doing a little better than white chemists, with slightly lower percentages working part time, as postdocs, or who are unemployed. Hispanic chemists are less likely to be working full time than white chemists - 86.1% and 89.7%, respectively. But this is largely because of a higher percentage of Hispanics on postdocs - 5.4% compared with 2.6% for whites. Asian chemists are by far the most likely to be postdocs, 11.0%. And of the 93 American Indian chemists responding to this year's survey, 89 are employed full time, two are postdocs, one is working part time, and one is unemployed but seeking a job.


Salary data from the survey represent the base salary for the principal job of chemists. Overtime, bonuses, consulting fees, and other professional income are not included. These are analyzed separately. In most cases, medians are used to avoid the distortion in means that can be caused by relatively few very high salaries. The median salary of a group is that which is equaled or exceeded by one-half of the sample.

As would be expected for a large working population that changes in composition only slightly from one year to the next, the median salary for all chemists employed full time drifted upward with inflation during the past year. Both salaries and inflation increased by very close to 3% between March 1, 1994, and March 1, 1995.

The median for academic chemists did not increase, actually falling nominally from $50,100 to $50,000. This is mainly due to an apparent salary weakness for younger academics, including those without Ph.D.s. The median for doctoral academics rose 1.0%.

Individual chemists generally had salary increases higher than the inflation rate since they had the advantage of an additional year of experience plus any pay increases for promotions. The mean increase was 5.9% for bachelors, 5.4% for masters, and 5.5% for Ph.D.s. This analysis also confirms the finding from earlier surveys that the big percentage salary gains come early in life. For those 20 to 29 years old, the mean increase over the past year was 8.7%. This drops steadily to 2.7% for chemists in their fifties and sixties.

These data exclude chemists whose salaries declined during the year. If they are included, the mean gains drop to 5.0% for bachelors, 4.5% for masters, and 4.5% for Ph.D.s.

Salaries of $100,000 and greater are becoming more common among chemists. As would be expected, they go largely with higher qualifications, age, and experience. The median for the top 10th percentile of Ph.D.s is $108,000 this year, starting with a median of $104,000 for those in this group between 20 and 24 years beyond their B.S. and increasing to $135,000 for those 40 years beyond their B.S. degree.

The median for the top 25% of Ph.D.s more than 30 years beyond their B.S. is also above $100,000. The median for the top 10th percentile of B.S. chemists more than 35 years beyond their B.S. also exceeds $100,000, as it does for the top 10th percentile of masters more than 30 years beyond their B.S. degree.

The gross returns from the latest survey indicate that women chemists have a median salary of $47,000, only 76% of the $62,000 median for men. However, this disparity is at least partly due to the greater age and experience of male chemists. Men are also more likely to have a Ph.D. When allowances are made for these differences, women do better, but they still do not have parity with men. They do best in government, where their adjusted median salary is about 94% that for men. They do worst in academia, where Ph.D. women earn just 85% of what their male colleagues do. In general, younger women chemists do much better relative to male contemporaries than do women with 20 years or more of experience.

Comparison of the median salaries of chemists working in industry, $62,300, in government, $58,000, and in academia, $50,000, seems to indicate a disadvantage for academics. However, this is largely due to the relatively low salaries paid to the considerable number of instructors and others not on a tenure track. The $92,000 median for an 11- or 12-month contract for a full professor at a Ph.D.-granting institution is quite competitive with the salary of more senior chemists in government and industry.

Bonuses and consulting

About 35% of all chemists employed full time reported receiving a bonus in 1994. This total includes 52% of chemists employed full time in industry. For full-time chemists in government, 25% received bonuses. Most academics did not answer the question and presumably did not receive bonuses. Of all those reporting a bonus in 1994, almost 88% worked for industry. The median bonus for all those who received one was $3,000; the mean was almost $10,000. For all chemists, the median bonus was zero, as more than half of them did not get one. The mean was almost $3,600, with the top 10th percentile receiving more than $6,800.

The profile is somewhat different for income from consulting. Of those reporting such income in 1994, 50% were academics and 30% were employed by industry. Of all academics, 38% earned such income. For all who earned income from consulting, the median was $6,000.

Job satisfaction

This year's survey asked a number of questions about job satisfaction. For instance, 67% of respondents agree they are paid fairly. Considerably less, 21%, think they are not. Satisfaction is a little higher for men, at 69%, than for women, 62%.

The pattern is similar for respondents' perceptions of their chances for professional advancement. Of all respondents, 65% either strongly agree or agree that prospects are good, with 23% either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing. Again, men chemists are more positive in their responses, 67%, compared with 61% for women.

Respondents rate their prospects for managerial advancement somewhat lower. A total of 56% agree or strongly agree such prospects are good, whereas 28% either disagree or strongly disagree. The difference is not great by gender, with 57% of men and 52% of women taking the positive view.

Answers to a related question indicate that 83.5% of respondents have a male supervisor and 11.4% work directly for a woman. The remaining 5.1% consider the question not applicable.

In another indicator related to job satisfaction, 44% of respondents have worked for their current employer for 10 years or more, including 20% who have 20 years or more of service. These numbers are higher for men, 48% and 23%, respectively, than for women, 31% and 9%, respectively. This difference must reflect, among other things, the lower average age of women chemists.

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