In my last post, I tried to gauge the state of the academic job market in psychology by comparing the number of new doctoral graduates each year with the number of new tenure-track faculty positions that become available each year (or at least the number of positions posted to the psych jobs wiki each year).
Based on yearly comparisons going back to 2007, I estimated that the chances of securing a tenure-track faculty position right out of graduate school are quite low, possibly as low as 18% .
In this post, I want to address another important question that anyone on the academic job market should consider:
If you are fortunate enough to actually land a tenure-track position in psychology, what can you expect to be paid? And how will your salary as a psychology professor compare to the salaries of professors in other fields?
The interactive graphic below displays the results of the 2013-14 Faculty in Higher Education Salary Survey by Discipline, Rank and Tenure Status in Four-Year Colleges and Universities (FHES4), which is conducted each year by The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) .
The findings from the survey reflect the salaries of 178,717 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, spanning 31 academic disciplines and 792 institutions nationwide.
The data are broken down by Faculty Rank (i.e., New Assistant Professor, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor), Academic Discipline (31 different fields), and Carnegie Classification of Institutions (i.e., Baccalaureate, Master’s, Doctoral, or Research).
Note that you can click on the graphic to filter by field and to bring up information about each individual data point.
Figure 1: Median Salaries for Tenured & Tenure-Track Faculty by Rank, Field, & Institution Type (2013-2014)
The findings from the FHES4 survey that specifically pertain to psychology are highlighted below for convenience:
Median Salary for tenured and tenure-track positions in psychology, Baccalaureate Institutions:
- New Assistant Professor: $54,606
- Assistant Professor: $54,966
- Associate Professor: $63,939
- Professor: $82,019
Median Salary for tenured and tenure-track positions in psychology, Master’s Institutions:
- New Assistant Professor: $55,650
- Assistant Professor: $56,915
- Associate Professor: $66,597
- Professor: $85,111
Median Salary for tenured and tenure-track positions in psychology, Doctoral Institutions:
- New Assistant Professor: $59,983
- Assistant Professor: $61,242
- Associate Professor: $70,720
- Professor: $92,389
Median Salary for tenured and tenure-track positions in psychology, Research Institutions:
- New Assistant Professor: $67,835
- Assistant Professor: $67,627
- Associate Professor: $78,483
- Professor: $113,306
Now how do these numbers stack up against the salaries of professors in other fields?
To determine this, I rank-ordered all 31 fields according to median salary and calculated each field’s percentile rank – a score that tells us the percentage of academic disciplines with lower median salaries. I calculated percentile ranks separately for each faculty rank as well as each institutional classification and then determined the average percentile rank across all four faculty ranks and across all four institutional classifications.
The result is an average percentile rank that tells us where, in general, a particular field stands in comparison to other academic disciplines. Scores higher than 0.5 represent fields in which professors consistently earn more than their peers in other disciplines, whereas scores lower than 0.5 represent fields in which professors consistently earn less than their peers in other disciplines.
Percentile ranks for psychology ranged from 0.25 for Associate Professors at Master’s level institutions (i.e., only 25% of associate professors at Master’s level institutions earn less) to 0.58 for full professors at Research level institutions (i.e., 58% of full professors at research level institutions earn less).
All 31 fields are presented below, rank-ordered from highest average percentile rank (highest paid) to lowest average percentile rank (lowest paid), with average percentile rank displayed in parentheses:
- Legal Professions and Studies (0.95)
- Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services (0.94)
- Engineering (0.89)
- Computer and Information Science and Support Services (0.87).
- Health Professions and Related Programs (0.73)
- Engineering Technologies and Engineering Related Fields (0.70)
- Social Sciences (0.69)
- Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies (0.60)
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences (0.60)
- Physical Sciences (0.59)
- Agriculture, Agriculture Operations, and Related Sciences (0.59)
- Agriculture and Related Services (0.58)
- Area, Ethnic, Cultural, Gender, and Group Studies (0.58)
- Natural Resources and Conservation (0.58)
- Communications Technologies/Technicians and Support Services (0.56)
- Mathematics and Statistics (0.53)
- Public Administration and Social Service Professions (0.50)
- Psychology (0.44)
- Philosophy and Religious Studies (0.36)
- Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting & Related Protective Services (0.35)
- Communication, Journalism and Related Programs (0.34)
- Family and Consumer Sciences/Human Sciences (0.33)
- Education (0.31)
- Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics (0.30)
- Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies (0.30)
- Library Sciences (0.26)
- Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities (0.24)
- History General (0.21)
- English Language and Literature/Letters (0.16)
- Theology and Religious Vocations (0.16)
- Visual and Performing Arts (0.16)
So across faculty rank and institutional classification, the average percentile rank for psychology professor salaries is 0.44, meaning that, in general, only 44% of academic fields offer lower salaries (and 56% offer higher salaries).
Now obviously, how psychology measures up against other disciplines varies by faculty rank and institutional classification (as well as by whether an institution is public or private, though that comparison is not included here).
But as Figure 2 below shows, only 6 out of 16 types of positions in psychology (~38%) fall in the top half of the income distribution for academics (i.e., New Assistant Professors at Baccalaureate institutions and Research institutions, Assistant Professors at Research institutions, and Full Professors at Baccalaureate, Master’s, and Research institutions).
Figure 2: Percentile Rank for Tenured and Tenure-track Faculty Positions by Faculty Rank and Institutional Classification.
Among the four institutional classifications, psychology professors at Research level institutions are generally paid best relative to their peers in other disciplines (average percentile rank = 0.53), and psychology professors at Master’s level institutions are generally paid most poorly relative to their peers in other disciplines (average percentile rank = 0.36).
So what should we take away from all of this?
For one thing, given that there are many more Master’s level institutions in the country than Research level institutions (and that one is therefore more likely to land a tenure-track position at a Master’s level institution than at a better paying Research level institution), most psychologists on the tenure-track job market, whether they realize it or not, are in a race to the bottom half of the academic pay scale .
Each year, more and more people compete for a relatively small number of jobs, yet on average, most of these “highly competitive” jobs pay less than similar positions at similar institutions in other academic disciplines.
But then if you are a psychology professor at a smaller Master’s level institution, perhaps you don’t necessarily care whether you are making less money than most of your peers in other fields.
After all, academics aren’t supposed to care about money…Right?
If you’re a professor at a college or university, perhaps you tell yourself that you do what you do because of your love for teaching and because of your commitment to lifelong learning and scientific discovery.
Whatever it takes to resolve the cognitive dissonance.
 Thanks to Linda Skitka (@LindaSkitka) and Erika Salomon (@ecsalomon) for reaching out to me on Twitter to point out that the National Science Foundation (NSF) publishes estimates of the number of people who earn a doctoral degree each year. Based on the numbers from the NSF, the chance of securing a tenure-track faculty position right out of graduate school is higher than what I estimated in my previous post – around 30%. However, the NSF may underestimate the number of doctorates awarded each year in psychology, as their estimates for the field as a whole (across all areas of specialization) are considerably lower than estimates published by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies. As such, a reasonable estimate of the chances of landing a tenure-track faculty position right out of graduate school is probably somewhere between 18% and 30%.
 Click here to read the accompanying press release, which highlights some notable findings from the survey, such as the fact that overall median base salaries of tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the U.S. increased by 2.1% from the previous year, which was better than inflation (1.5%). Furthermore, salary increases were greater at public institutions (2.2%) than at private institutions (2.0%) for the first time in four years.
 According to data from the Carnegie Classifications website, Master’s level institutions account for 40% of all four-year colleges and universities in the country. Baccalaureate institutions account for 44%, Research institutions account for 11%, and Doctoral institutions account for 5%.