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ACS News

March 3, 2008
Volume 86, Number 9
pp. 37-46

Employment & Salary Survey

In 2007, job market for chemists continued to improve and salary gains held at recent level of close to 5%

Michael Heylin

What happened to the employment situation and salaries of chemists during the 12 months ending March 1, 2007, was not spectacular. But it was positive.


According to the American Chemical Society's latest annual survey of its members in the domestic workforce, 92.3% were employed full-time on that date, 3.6% were working part-time, 1.7% were on postdocs or fellowships, and 2.4% were unemployed but actively seeking employment.

The survey put the total of those with other than a full-time job at 7.7%. This was down from the all-time high of 9.2% in 2005, but it was still considerably higher than the recent low of 5.4% in 2001. The 2.4% unemployment rate for 2007 was the lowest since 2001, when it had been 1.5%.

The median salary for all respondents to the 2007 survey as a group paced inflation with a 3.5% increase to $88,000 from the median of $85,000 from the year-earlier survey. The median 2007 salary for bachelor's degree chemists as a group was $68,700. For those with master's degrees it was $80,000 and for Ph.D.s, $96,700. These salaries do not include overtime or bonuses.

As always, in 2007, industrial chemists were the highest paid, with a median salary of $96,700, followed by government chemists at $90,000, and academics at $65,600.

Chemists as individuals posted a larger 4.7% increase in their median salary between March 1, 2006, and March 1, 2007-from $85,000 to $89,000. This rate of gain was the same as the average annual gain for the past decade.

This finding comes from a question that asked respondents for their salaries as of both dates. This approach has the advantage that salary data for both years come from the same set of respondents to a single survey. It also accounts for pay gains due to promotions and growing responsibilities for individual chemists. It avoids the variance inherent in measuring salary gains as the difference between medians from separate surveys done one year apart and using different member samples.

The median salary is the middle salary-that which is equaled or exceeded by half of the population.

All of these changes came while the national employment situation, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), posted a fairly solid improvement between early 2006 and early 2007. This speeded up what had been a relatively slow recovery from the job losses that occurred during and after the mild economic recession in 2001. However, job growth nationally has slowed quite sharply in recent months.

The ACS 2007 survey involved sending 21,000 questionnaires to a random sample of about 90,000 members most likely to have been in the domestic workforce. They were U.S. residents under 70 years old who were not in the emeritus, retired, or student membership categories. There were a total of almost 7,200 responses, including about 6,500 from members actually in the workforce. Respondents no longer working accounted for most of the rest.

Of the responses, 5,900 came by mail and 1,300 by Internet. Responses from those who indicated they were fully retired or otherwise not in the workforce were not included in the sample analysis.

The response rate was about 34%, down from close to 50% a decade ago. Due to this decline, the dwindling number of respondents working as chemical engineers, about 250 in 2007, was too small for meaningful separate analysis as in previous years.

For 2007, data from both chemist and chemical engineering respondents were combined into a single group. As chemical engineers are traditionally somewhat better paid than chemists, there was a slight upward tick relative to the chemist-only salary data from earlier surveys.

The 2007 survey was conducted by Gareth S. Edwards and Jeffrey R. Allum of the ACS Department of Member Research & Technology under the general guidance of the ACS Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs. A full report will be available later this year from the ACS Office of Society Services. This report will also be available as a PDF on the ACS website (www.acs.org).

The percentage of chemists in the workforce who are women has risen from about 9% 30 years ago to 15.0% in 1985 and 24.2% in 2000. Since then there has been little progress, with the percentage of women actually dropping from 25.8% in 2006 to 25.5% in 2007. However, with women today earning 52% of chemistry bachelor's degrees, 52% of master's degrees, and 31% of Ph.D.s, the potential for further feminization of chemistry is still there (C&EN, Dec. 3, 2007, page 73). In 2007, 33% of bachelor's degree respondents in the workforce were women, as were 36% of master's degree- and 21% of Ph.D.-holders

It should be noted that the growing presence of women chemists continues to percolate up through the ranks of the chemical profession by age. In 2007, 50% of survey respondents two to four years beyond earning their bachelor's degrees were women, as were 44% of those five to nine years beyond and 34% of those 10 to 14 years beyond. This tails off to just 14% of chemists 35 years or more beyond earning their bachelor's degree.

The makeup of the chemistry profession by race and ethnicity continues to change only slowly. In 1995, 85.8% of survey respondents identified themselves as white. In 2007, 84.5% did so. Asians showed a gain over the period-from 10.3% to 11.4%. Blacks, about 13% of the U.S. population, moved up from 1.4% of chemists to 1.9%. Hispanics, about 14% of the U.S. population, showed a similar small gain, from 2.3% to 3.0%.

Asians, who make up about 4% of the U.S. population, will remain well represented. This is largely due to foreigners who come to the U.S. for their chemistry education and stay. But all signs indicate that although blacks and Hispanics are making some progress in chemistry, they will remain substantially underrepresented, despite all best efforts to encourage them into the field. Chemistry continues to attract disproportionately few blacks or Hispanics, each accounting for only about 4% of chemistry graduating classes (C&EN, Dec. 3, 2007, page 73).

Chemists in the workforce are becoming better educated. In 1985, 25% of respondents to the ACS survey had a bachelor's as their highest degree. By 2007, this was down to 19%. Over the same period, the percentage with a Ph.D. degree rose from 57% to 64%. Those with master's degrees held at close to 17%.

The biggest recent demographic change for chemists has been in their age. In 1985, 43% of survey respondents were younger than 40 years old, as were 41% in 1995. Since then, this has tumbled to 28%. The median age for all respondents is now 48-50 for men, 43 for women.

The demographics of chemists indicate that those with bachelor's and Ph.D.s are quite different populations. For instance, 92% of those with bachelor's degrees are born into U.S. citizenship, compared with a lower 75% of Ph.D.s. Only 2.2% of the bachelor's degree-holders are not U.S. citizens compared with 13% of Ph.D.s. Of the bachelor's respondents, 83% work in business or industry and 7%, in academia. For Ph.D.s, this breakdown is 52% and 39%, respectively.

THE EMPLOYMENT situation of chemists in 2007 showed the usual variations. Women are more likely than men to work part-time, 5.2% versus 3.0%. They are also more likely to be postdocs-2.3% versus 1.5%. Asians are also more likely to be postdocs, 4.6% versus 1.4% of whites. And the percentage of chemists working part-time increases with age, up to 9.3% of 60- to 69-year-olds.

A majority of chemists continue to work in manufacturing-51% in 2007. This is down from 55% in 2002. Chemical manufacturing now accounts for 15% of the jobs; pharmaceutical, biotech, and health-related manufacturing for 21%; and other manufacturing for another 15%. The percentage of those working in academia, including high schools, is on the rise, from 24% in 2002 to 29% in 2007. Analytical and research services jobs accounted for the jobs of another 7% in 2007 and government service, 8%.

In the 2007 survey, 39% of respondents indicated their work specialty to be a classic chemistry discipline-analytical, inorganic, organic, physical, or polymer chemistry. Another 3% indicated general chemistry, for a total of 42% indicating chemistry. Chemistry-related fields-such as biochemistry and materials science-claimed 43%, whereas 4% worked in chemical engineering and 11% were involved in nonchemistry activities.

This profile of respondents' work specialties is at variance with the profile of the respondents' specialties for their highest degrees-a total of 69% in chemistry, 18% in chemistry-related fields, 6% in chemical engineering, and 7% in nonchemistry disciplines.

The profile of specialty by gender indicates relatively low percentages of women working in physical chemistry, 15% of the total; polymer chemistry, 18%; organic chemistry, 19%; and inorganic chemistry, 20%. Women's highest saturation is into biochemistry and chemical education, each claiming 37% of the total, and analytical chemistry, 32%.

Of academics responding to the 2007 survey, 16% of full professors were women, as were 27% of associate professors and 29% of assistant professors. These levels are somewhat higher than the 11%, 20%, and 22% levels, respectively, from a recent C&EN survey of faculty at the 100 chemistry departments spending the most on research (C&EN, Dec. 24, 2007, page 44). That the ACS survey includes faculty members from nonresearch departments may explain this difference; such departments tend to have a higher percentage of women faculty.

Median salaries of $71,300 for all women respondents to the ACS 2007 survey and $92,900 for all male respondents, at first glance, indicate something amiss in these days of legislated equal opportunity and reward. However, two factors explain much of this difference: The men, on average are seven years older than the women, and the men are, as a group, better qualified academically.

Comparison of the salaries of men and women chemists with the same degree, the same amount of experience, and the same type of employer reveals a more even playing field. By five-year age groups from five to nine years beyond the bachelor's degree to 30 to 34 years beyond, women Ph.D. chemists in industry earn from 90 to 99% what their comparable male colleagues earn. With the exception of one anomaly in each case, the range is from 91 to 99% for master's degree chemists and from 88 to 102% for those with a bachelor's.

The pattern is similar for academic chemists. Women full professors with nine-month contracts in bachelor's-granting departments actually earn more than men, $78,200 versus $73,200. At master's and Ph.D. institutions, women earn 91% as much. All this does not demonstrate full salary equality for female chemists. But it indicates that equality is closer than the overall medians for men and women might suggest.

The dominant single determining factor in chemists' salaries remains their experience. In 2007, chemists 35 to 39 years beyond their bachelor's degree had a median salary of $100,000. This is almost 40% higher than the $72,000 for chemists 20 years their junior.

The data on academic salaries bring out the financial significance of a full professorship. Full professors with 11- to 12-month contracts at Ph.D.-granting schools had a median salary of $131,200 in 2007. This compares with $77,900 for associate professors and $68,900 for assistant professors.

For those with nine-month contracts, salary medians were $110,000, $75,800, and $65,000, respectively.

As would be expected, industrial chemists' salaries vary considerably by work function. Those in R&D management and general management are well-rewarded with median salaries for Ph.D.s of $140,000 and $121,000, respectively. At the other end of the scale are Ph.D.s in analytical services, with a median of $100,000, and in production/quality control at $102,100. Basic and applied research both come in at $105,000.

In 2007, as always, industrial salaries varied by size of the employer. For Ph.D.s, the range was from $92,000 for employers with fewer than 50 employees to $120,000 for employers with 25,000 or more.

The salaries of chemists in industry cover a quite broad range. In 2007, the highest paid 10% of those with a bachelor's had a median salary of $112,000 compared with $41,600 for the 10% lowest paid. The differential for master's degree chemists was from $130,000 to $55,000 and for Ph.D.s, from $166,000 to $76,500.

About all that can be said about chemists' salaries by geographic region is that they follow national trends and tend to be high on the East and West Coasts. For instance, the median salary for Ph.D.s exceeds $100,000 only in New England, the Middle Atlantic states, and the Pacific region.

Bonuses for chemists mostly go to those in industry. In general, such payments are a relatively small component of total compensation. In 2007, 75% of chemists in manufacturing indicated they were eligible for a bonus. Of these, 95% got one. Its median size was $10,000. Government is less generous, with 38% in that category eligible, 78% of these receiving, and a median of $1,900. Academics come in at 12% eligible, 81% of these receiving, and a median of $3,000.

Putting chemists in context with what had been happening to the employment situation in the U.S. in general for past dozen years is not easy. The data are complex and a multitude of factors are involved.

There is no question employment nationally has been on a roller coaster since 1995, with six years of rapid growth followed by about four years of decline and recovery and two years of renewed growth, which may today be on the wane.

U.S. population growth has held steady over these years at about 2.7 million per year for those 16 years and older and about 2.3 million per year for those 25 years and older.

Such growth demands a related steady growth in the number of domestic jobs just to maintain the status quo on the job market.

But the ability to generate jobs has definitely weakened. Chemists fall into the BLS category of "nonfarm payrolls." And BLS data on these payrolls are widely regarded as one of the better measures of employment. They grew by an average of 2.6 million per year from 1995 to 2001 but by only 800,000 per year from 2001 to 2007. Total private employment, another key BLS indicator, shows the same profile, up by 2.4 million annually from 1995 to 2001 and by about 650,000 annually from 2001 to 2007.

Two questions are key: Is the slow overall rate of job growth since 2001 not unexpected as this period includes the losses from the inevitable downturn that came in the aftermath of the exuberant job growth of the 1990s boom that ended in early 2001? Or is slower job growth chronic and due to such factors as the continued aging of the U.S. population; the downsizing of many domestic operations, especially manufacturing; the outsourcing of jobs overseas; other perturbations of globalization; or people just giving up on finding a job? Only time will tell.

However, an encouraging sign, especially for chemists, is the relatively strong and consistent workplace performance of college graduates in general. The number of those in the labor force who have at least a bachelor's degree in any subject and are at least 25 years old has risen very steadily from 31 million in 1995 to 37 million in 2001 and 44 million in 2007.

This trend quantifies the ongoing increase in the caliber of the U.S. workforce, something that is essential if this country is to remain competitive and economically strong. It also parallels the steady upgrade in the academic qualification of the U.S. chemical community.


A Challenge For Surveyors Of Chemists

Those who gather data on chemists are faced with the task of defining who they will gather it from. There is no single definition of a chemist. Is it anybody with a chemistry degree, or chemistry as their highest degree? Is it anybody who works in chemistry or a related science? Is it a member of the American Chemical Society?

In gathering data on the number of new chemistry graduates each year at the bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. levels, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) use a narrow definition of chemistry. They include only those who earn their degrees in a classic chemistry discipline. They count such graduates from more than 1,000 departments.

The ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT) also compiles annual data on chemistry graduates. But its totals are of all degrees awarded by the about 630 chemistry departments that have undergraduate programs CPT has approved.

Some of these degrees are in chemistry-related disciplines, such as biochemistry and materials science, that NSF and NCES do not classify as chemistry. Those organizations consider biochemistry to be a biological science and materials science an engineering discipline. Also, CPT does not collect data on graduates from the schools, mostly small ones, it has not certified.

The population that ACS examines for its annual salary and employment survey of its domestic members are all chemists in the sense that they have at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a chemistry-related discipline. It is a requirement for society membership. And as they are society members, they presumably have an abiding interest in the science. But they don't all have a degree in a classic chemistry discipline, and they don't all actually work in chemistry.

Of course, not all chemists, however defined, are members of ACS. But ACS membership is the largest identifiable congregation of those involved in the science. As such, it provides the largest and best sample of members of the chemical profession. So, as long as its inherent limitations are kept in mind, ACS membership provides a reasonable basis for a survey to follow trends in the general welfare of working chemists in the U.S.

Employment Status

Median Base Salaries

Salary Trends

Salaries Of Chemists As Individuals

ACS Members In The Workforce

A Changing Dynamic

Age Of Chemists

Employment Demographics

Where Chemists Work

Demographics By Degree

Work Specialty/Highest Degree

Chemistry Faculties By Gender

Industrial Chemists' Salaries By Experience And Gender

Academic Salaries

Ph.D. Faculty Salaries By Gender

Industrial Salaries By Work Function

Salaries Of All Chemists By Experience

Salary Spread For Industrial Chemists

Chemist's Salaries By Region

Industrial Salaries By Size Of Employer


U.S. National Employment

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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