Global Optics and Photonics Salary Report 2023
The Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report is the largest and longest-running publication addressing optics and photonics salaries. Employees, students, and managers will find a wealth of information about compensation across the career landscape.
Sign into your SPIE account or create a free new account to learn how your optics salary compares to your colleagues', how earnings in academia compare to industry, how gender impacts wages, and more. The report offers 14 topical chapters and 29 figures and tables, and the option to download a 25-page PDF.
The Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report provides a reference for employees, students, and managers interested in understanding optics salaries across the career landscape: How does my pay compare with that of my colleagues? To what degree are my colleagues working from home versus in person in labs or offices? What can I expect to earn in industry versus academia? The report addresses these questions and a variety of other issues across 14 topical sections, drawing on original research conducted by SPIE.
SPIE delivers the report each year, free of charge, as part of its mission as a not-for-profit educational society supporting the science and application of light. The report builds on data from over 5,500 individuals in 101 countries1 who shared career information in a short online survey. This is the 13th annual survey and report, the largest such study in the optics and photonics community.
Unless otherwise noted, all results are based on full-time workers. For a complete list of participant countries and other details on survey methodology, please see Methodology and Endnotes.
|•||The median salary for all full-time employees grew from $78,644 last year to $80,000 this year, an increase of 1.7%.2|
|•||Early in the pandemic many workers shifted to remote work, but this shift has mostly been reversed, with 71% working most or all of time in their labs, offices, or other face-to-face workplaces.|
|•||Salaries paid in euro are up 15% versus last year, and have increased 27% since 2011. Since last year, growth for other main currencies has been nearly flat or flat, with US dollar salaries increasing 4%, pay in Chinese yuan and Japanese yen flat, and earnings in British pounds decreasing 3%.|
|•||The highest-paid discipline is aerospace, with a median income of $122,721. Aerospace has held the top spot for all 13 years that the survey has been conducted.|
|•||Median salaries are 19% higher overall for men than for women, $83,255 versus $69,000.|
|•||Most full-time workers surveyed identify as engineers (65%). Within this group, 60% have engineering degrees and are working as engineers, 24% have engineering degrees but are not working as engineers, and 16% work as engineers without having engineering degrees.|
|•||The most popular engineering degrees are electrical (25%) and optical (19%), with mechanical (12%) falling in third place.|
|•||The largest proportion of engineers focus their work on optical engineering (41%), followed by electrical (10%).|
|•||Startups account for just over 14% of workers at for-profit organizations. These workers earn median salaries of $80,173, versus $106,519 for those at traditional companies.|
|•||Almost two-thirds of student respondents are working towards a PhD (64%), followed by 20% pursuing master’s degrees, and 12% seeking a bachelor’s degree.|
Full-time optics and photonics salaries cluster around the median of $80,000, with half of respondents paid between $44,746 and $135,000. The overall distribution of pay is very wide, with 5th percentile workers earning $9,382 while those at the 95th percentile earn $245,000.
Distribution of Full-time Salaries
Workers in Israel, Switzerland, and the United States enjoy the highest median salaries. Workers at for-profit organizations earn more than their colleagues in academia in most of the countries listed.
Median salary for full-time workers, overall, for-profit, academic, and government/military employers
Survey responses by region
65% of full-time workers identify themselves as engineers
Within this group:
Median salaries shown
What type of engineering degree do you have?
What type of engineering is your main focus?
The COVID-19 pandemic created a shift to remote work in our community. Two years ago, when the workplace impact of the pandemic was strongest, 40% of survey respondents worked half or more of their hours remotely. One year ago, 26% of employees worked remotely half or more of the time, while currently that number has declined to 13%.
What proportion of your work hours did or do you spend working remotely versus in an office, lab, or other workplace with colleagues?
Salaries paid in euro and U.S. dollars were up in 2021, 15% for euro and 4% for dollars. There was no change in median salary paid in Chinese yuan or Japanese yen, while earnings in British pounds decreased 3%. Over the thirteen years that this survey has been conducted, median salaries in each of these five currency groups have increased 13% or more, with wages paid in Chinese yuan increasing the most, rising 178% since 2011.3
Change in median salaries, 2011-21, main currency groups
Growth in median salaries, 2011-2022, main currency groups
North America, Oceania, and higher-income Asia stand out as the regions with the highest salaries.4 A large portion of regional income gaps is explained by the level of economic development of countries within each area.5
Median salary by region
How did you find your original position at your present employer?
Median salaries are greatest for self-employed/consultants, company/corporation, and military/defense. Universities, colleges, and other educational institutions pay the least.6
Median salary by employer type
Median salary by region: Academic, government/military, and for-profit employers
Startups account for just over 14% of workers at for-profit organizations. These entrepreneurs earn median salaries of $80,173 versus $106,591 for their colleagues at traditional companies.
Median salaries at startup versus traditional companies
Median salary by years employed for selected countries
Median salary by years employed and organization type category
What most inspired you to pursue optics, photonics, or a related field?
Median salary by years employed and region
Aerospace and semiconductor disciplines enjoy the highest median earnings, at $122,721 and $102,000, respectively. Civil or environmental salaries are the smallest, with a median salary of $43,825.
Median salary by primary discipline
The two most important factors driving salary gaps across disciplines are employment sector and country income level. The highest-paying disciplines have much higher representation at for-profit companies: 71% of semiconductor and 61% of aerospace workers work at for-profits.
Country income level has a similar impact on median salaries of optics and photonics disciplines. In aerospace, for example, 88% of workers are located in North America or higher-income European countries.
Median salary by discipline: For-profit, government/military, and academic employers
Security/defense is the highest-paid application area, which is unsurprising given that 55% of these workers are in aerospace, the highest-paying discipline.
Median salary by application area
Women make up 23% of the respondents to the survey, 33% of students, 19% of fulltime workers, and 31% of part-time workers. The median salary for full-time women workers is $69,000, versus $83,225 for men.
Median salary by gender and region
Median salary by gender and years employed
Median salary by gender and employer type
Other factors that influence salary include job level and job role. Top organizational leaders enjoy the highest salaries, while research and teaching assistants anchor the bottom of the range.
Median salary by job level
Median salary by job level, selected countries
Median salary by job role
The majority of student respondents are pursuing PhDs.
Degree being pursued
In December of 2022, SPIE sent email survey invitations to a large subset of its global customer database. Response was voluntary and open. A gift card raffle and early access to this report were offered as incentives to encourage participation. Surveys were completed online using the Alchemer enterprise survey tool. Results were filtered for duplicates and invalid data to yield 5,568 valid responses. Microsoft Excel and SPSS were utilized for summary statistics and related analyses.
For questions, comments, or suggestions, contact report author Adam Resnick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|1.||This count of respondents by country includes valid responses from full-time, part-time, unemployed, student, and retiree respondents. United States (2045), Germany (302), India (302), Peoples Republic of China (279), United Kingdom (264), Canada (191), Italy (183), Japan (172), South Korea (126), Spain (112), France (92), Netherlands (85), Mexico (83), Russia (77), Brazil (75), Turkey (69), Switzerland (63), Taiwan (63), Israel (55), Poland (48), Finland (43), Belgium (39), Singapore (38), Australia (34), Czechia (33), Austria and Pakistan (30), Egypt (29), Colombia (28), Portugal (26), Lithuania (25), Denmark (24), South Africa (22), Sweden (20), Chile (19), Greece and Ireland (18), New Zealand (17), Iran and Malaysia (16), Argentina and Ukraine (12), Indonesia and Thailand (11), Hungary, Iraq, Latvia, and Romania (10), Armenia, Ethiopia, and Norway (9), Nigeria and United Arab Emirates (8), Bulgaria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam (7), Belarus, Hong Kong SAR, China, Kenya, and Slovenia (6), Algeria (5), Estonia, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Slovak Republic, and Tunisia (4), Cameroon, Ecuador, Kuwait, Peru, Qatar, and Venezuela (3), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Moldova, and Philippines (2), Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Guatemala, Kyrgyz Republic, Lebanon, Libya, Macao SAR, China, Malta, Montenegro, Nepal, Oman, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Uganda, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe (1)|
|2.||US dollars are used throughout. Local currencies were converted using January 2023 market exchange rates. Salary figures include total yearly compensation, both base pay and bonuses. Full-time employees are those who indicated working 35 or more hours per week. Unless otherwise noted, all data on pay is drawn from full-time employees.|
|3.||Yearly growth was computed by comparing same-currency results for each year.|
|4.||Oceania is comprised of Australia and New Zealand. North America is comprised of the United States and Canada. Mexico and Guatemala are included in the Latin America and Caribbean category.|
|5.||Europe and Asia are composed of countries spanning a wide range of income levels, even when subdivided into higher- and lower-income groups. For example, the European higher-income category includes Lithuania and Norway at $21,740 and $83,880 per capita Gross National Income (GNI), respectively, for 2021. European lower-income countries include Bulgaria at $11,200 and Moldova at $5,370. Higher- and lower-income subcategories are based on the World Bank’s threshold for high-income countries, $13,205 per capita GNI in 2021. This threshold is used throughout this report when referring to “higher-income” and “lower-income” countries. For data on per capita GNI, see http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD/countries. For World Bank country income categories, see http://data.worldbank.org/about/country-classifications.|
|6.||The category “for-profit” is composed of company/corporation, self-employed/consultant, and fill-in “other” entries that indicate for-profit affiliation. “Academic” is composed of university/college, private lab or research institute, not-for-profit, intergovernmental, other research institute, and open-text “other” entries that indicate academic organizations. “Government/military” is composed of government lab or research institute, civilian government, and military/defense.|
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