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August 2001
Vol. 10, No. 08,
pp 24–26, 28–29.
Today's Chemist at Work
Focus: Career/Salary/Employment


Chemists defy the gravity of the economy

Pay gains outpaced inflation while jobless rates hit a 10-year low, the ACS Salary Survey shows.

opening art
During the past year, despite the slumping stock markets and crashing dot-coms, ACS chemists did just fine, thank you. The latest ACS Comprehensive Salary and Economic Status Survey finds strong pay increases for chemists at all degree levels (Table 1), accompanied by the lowest unemployment rates in a decade (see “The Good Employment News” further down the page).

The good financial news for all chemists was led by master’s degree holders with 4.8% median pay gains; this was nearly matched among industrial chemists (Table 2) by Ph.D. earners with a 4.6% median salary increase. Chemists with bachelor’s degrees, who led in both categories last year, trailed their higher-degreed colleagues slightly in 2000 but still scored gains in excess of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), or approximate U.S. inflation rate. The March CPI was up 2.9% over the March 2000 index; last year’s CPI increase was 3.7%. Thus, with the exception of B.S. chemists, the salary gains for all chemists this year translate into even more of a purchasing power benefit than last year.

Inflation during the rest of 2001 may well be heading skyward, what with high fuel prices and related costs affecting the economy. Nevertheless, in the year covered by the 2001 ACS annual salary survey, the big picture is that chemists made solid salary gains greater than inflation while enjoying a better job market and lower unemployment rates.

For the purposes of this article, industrial chemists are defined as chemists working in the manufacturing and nonmanufacturing (service) sectors. The salary increases for industrial chemists are comparable with those for chemists overall, and this year, industrial salary gains increased with advancing degree level. For M.S. and Ph.D. industrial chemists, salary gains were much larger than last year’s. The smaller gain for B.S. chemists comes after an uncommonly large 5.7% salary gain last year.

Figure 1
FIGURE 1: Median Salary per Economic Sector
Source: ACS, 2001 Comprehensive Salary and Employment Status Survey

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 2

FIGURE 2: Median Salaries by Degree and Years since B.S.
Source: ACS, 2001 Comprehensive Salary and Employment Status Survey

Figure 3
FIGURE 3: Median Salary vs. Job Function
Source: ACS, 2001 Comprehensive Salary and Employment Status Survey
Details about Dollars
The two industry sectors combined (manufacturing and nonmanufacturing) continue to pay the highest salaries (Figure 1), and the salary differentials are greater with each degree level. B.S. industrial chemists’ median salary was $1100, or 2.0%, higher than all B.S. chemists; M.S. industrial chemists had a $3000 (4.6%) salary advantage over all chemists, and industrial Ph.D. chemists’ advantage was $8000 (9.7%).

Figure 2 compares salaries of industrial chemists by degree and the number of years since a B.S. was received. Salaries for industrial chemists show the classic pattern of increasing with degree level and years of service. Although salaries generally increase with the age of the chemist, the rate of increase declines as chemists age. The salary declines for the oldest groups of chemists may be due to some higher-paid individuals in this age bracket retiring and/or others moving into nonchemical positions.

Job function continues to have a substantial effect on chemists’ salaries (Figure 3). At every degree level, R&D managers and general business managers tend to earn the most. However, this may be because managers tend to be older than most of their staff members. B.S. and M.S. chemists working in marketing and sales earn significantly more than their counterparts who have stayed in the lab working in analytical services or basic and applied research.

At all degree levels, women industrial chemists continue to earn lower salaries than their male counterparts; the differential increases with age. ChemCensus 2000 data suggest that this is because women tend to cluster in lower-paying work functions such as chemical information and analytical services. (1). There is a curious dip for women in the profession from 25 to 39 years after attaining a B.S. This is most apparent with Ph.D. chemists and may be related to women’s earlier and more frequent career hiatuses (2, 3).

The Good Employment News
Overall unemployment of ACS chemists was 1.5% in March compared with 2.0% in the previous year. This 25% drop is not only statistically significant but is meaningful in that ACS chemists have not seen a jobless rate as low as 1.5% since 1990. Unemployment among industrial chemists was 1.7%, slightly higher than that of chemists working in government or academia (Figure 4). But this was also a significant drop (26%) from the previous year.

By way of comparison, the March unemployment rate for the entire U.S. civilian labor force was 4.5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). On the other hand, joblessness among those the BLS classified as engaged in managerial and professional specialty occupations, perhaps a more apt comparison, was 2.0%.

For industrial chemists, one reason for March’s lower unemployment is that hiring has remained very strong in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. A Merck-Medco report indicates U.S. spending on prescription drugs increased by 14% in 2000 and is expected to double by 2006, primarily because of the aging U.S. population. Another driving force for hiring is that, over the next three to five years, drugs representing about 11% of total U.S. drug sales will go off patent and lose a substantial fraction of their sales to generic analogs. Drug companies are relying on their R&D departments to develop new drugs to replace the lost revenue from these products.

The number of chemists reporting that they were unemployed for some time in the 12 months prior to the 2001 survey was 5.2%, compared with 5.8% in the previous survey. Thus, even with low unemployment at any particular time, there appears to be considerable entry and exit of chemists in the job market. Continued restructuring in the chemical manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and other industries is probably responsible, with companies downsizing their chemical employment by early retirement or layoffs but with the departing chemists finding new jobs fairly quickly.

For example, the unemployment rate among chemists in the pharmaceutical industry last March was 1.3%. However, more recently there has been considerable job turnover as indicated by an announcement by Roche of R&D employment cutbacks and plans by Bristol-Myers Squibb to reduce R&D employment in the pharmaceutical business it purchased from DuPont in June.

Such continuing job turnover means that chemists must keep their job-hunting skills sharp to limit the time they spend unemployed. Of those unemployed at some time in the previous year, more than half the total—54.2%—found jobs in three months or less.

“Comparator” on the Web
ACS now offers members the “ACS Salary Comparator” on the ACS Web site (http://chemistry.org/careers). This feature, initiated by the Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs and developed by Career Services, allows you to make more detailed salary comparisons, taking into account such factors as employee age, company size, and industry sector.
Degrees and the Age Factor
Unemployment was the same (1.8%) for B.S. and Ph.D. industrial chemists but significantly lower for M.S. chemists (1.4%). Age continues to play a major role in employment status. Chemists’ unemployment rates generally increased with age; they also tend to be unemployed longer (4). For example, chemists younger than 45 had an unemployment rate of 0.7%, whereas those between 45 and 59 had a 2.9% rate. Except for chemists aged 20–39, who include a large proportion of graduating students and chemists finishing postdocs, the number of chemists reporting they were unemployed at some time during the year prior to the survey generally increased with age. For chemists under 45, this number was 4.4%, while it was 6.5% for those 45–59. Minority chemists in industry reported 1.2% unemployment, significantly less than the nonminority rate of 1.8%.

Chemists’ unemployment varied widely with different major industrial employers. Employment sectors with jobless rates significantly higher than the overall average of 1.7% were medical devices (4.1%), analytical laboratory services (3.4%), contract research (2.1%), basic chemicals (2.2%), and professional services (2.1%). On the other hand, of 131 petroleum chemists surveyed, none were unemployed as of March.

Industrial chemists’ unemployment also varied significantly by work function: Analytical services chemists reported an unemployment rate of 2.8%, while health and safety chemists were worse off at 3.7%. Researchers fared well, with applied research chemists reporting 0.9% unemployment and basic researchers 0.5%. Their managers did not fare as well, with research managers’ unemployment at 1.8%. Of chemists working in management and business functions, those in general management reported 1.2% unemployment and in marketing and sales 1.8%. Production and quality control chemists reported an unemployment rate of 2.7%.

A Strong Spring Job Market
The ACS National Employment Clearing House (NECH) held at the San Diego national meeting in April provides further evidence of the strong job market: 209 employers interviewed to fill 817 different positions for 1429 potential hires. The number of candidates, 897, was actually less than the number of potential hires available at the NECH, while the number of candidate interviews, 4299, set a record. According to Tanya Fogg, manager of employment services, ACS Career Services, the dynamic of potential hires outpacing job candidates continued through the subsequent ACS spring regional meetings.

One of the developments noted in ChemCensus 2000 (1) was the increased part-time employment status of industrial chemists, from 0.6% in 1990 to 1.0% in 1995 and to 1.7% in 2000. The latest survey indicates that 1.8% of industrial chemists worked part-time in March 2001. With overall unemployment of industrial chemists down substantially, the relative stability of part-time employment suggests that for many, the choice of part-time work is a voluntary one. This was shown to be the case in the ChemCensus 2000 study.

The Survey
All statistical data used in this article were derived from the 2001 ACS Comprehensive Salary and Employment Status Survey of a random sample of 22,411 ACS members. A total of 9832 members, or 44%, responded. The survey was conducted by the ACS Department of Career Services under the guidance of the ACS Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs. The sample is drawn from all ACS regular and associate members excluding students, retirees, and emeritus members living in the United States who are under 70. Mary Welsh Jordan, senior workforce analyst, ACS Career Services, greatly aided and facilitated interpretation of the data for this article, but any errors of analysis are the responsibility of the author.

More detailed survey data and analysis will be published this fall in the report Salaries 2001. Printed and bound copies of this report will be available for $150 from the ACS Office of Society Services, 1155 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20036. Copies of previous reports are available (see Career Services publications at chemistry.org/careers/empres//pubs01.html).

What Is Unemployment?
The answer to this question is not as obvious as it appears. The term “unemployment” applies to persons in the workforce who are not working and are seeking a full-time job. The workforce excludes those who are fully retired or not working and not seeking a job.


  1. ChemCensus 2000: Analysis of the American Chemical Society’s Comprehensive 2000 Survey of the Salaries and Employment Status of Its Domestic Members, American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2001.
  2. Industrial Chemists 2000: Analysis of the American Chemical Society’s Comprehensive 2000 Survey of the Salaries and Employment Status of Its Domestic Members, American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2001.
  3. Women Chemists 2000: Analysis of the American Chemical Society’s Comprehensive 2000 Survey of the Salaries and Employment Status of Its Domestic Members, American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2001.
  4. Lifetimes in Chemistry: A Report on the American Chemical Society’s Mature Career Chemist Study of Members Aged 50 through 69, American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2000.

(Reports are free to ACS members, $10 each to nonmembers.)

John K. Borchardt is a research chemist who has published more than 100 technical papers and has been awarded 30 U.S. patents. Send your comments or questions regarding this article to tcaw@acs.org or the Editorial Office 1155 16th St N.W., Washington, DC 20036.

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