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What physicists earn: salary and influencing factors
Salary of physicists by work experience and gender
Current salary data for physicists can also be found in the Hans Böckler Foundation's salary index. The detailed evaluation according to professional experience and gender is based on the income of 1,280 physicists, who were mainly surveyed in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
After one year of professional experience, physicists earn an average of EUR 52,440 gross per year (excluding special payments, full-time equivalents with 38 hours per week). In the course of their working life, the salary of physicists rises again significantly. According to the data from the wage index, the average salaries are as follows:
- after 5 years of professional experience: 61,320 euros
- after 10 years of professional experience: 67,680 euros
- after 20 years of professional experience: 75,840 euros
In terms of salary, gender does not play as much of a role in physics as it does in other disciplines. After ten years of professional experience, men earn an average of EUR 68,040, only around four percent more than women, who earn EUR 65,400. Across all professions, the income of women in 2019 was on average 20 percent below that of men, according to the Federal Statistical Office.
Salary of physicists after graduation
Around three quarters of physicists in Germany do their doctorate, which is currently almost 2,000 per year. One reason: The salary prospects are significantly better with a doctorate. According to the 2020 salary report, physicists with a doctorate earn an average of 65,460 euros, while physicists with a master’s degree receive “only” 49,141 euros annually. After graduation, there are hardly any physicists with a bachelor's degree in regular employment, as the transition rates to the master’s degree are well over 90 percent according to the German Center for University and Science Research (DZHW).
Salary of physicists by state
The data from the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung's wage index allow a breakdown of physicist salaries by federal state. The values have been standardized to 10 years of professional experience. According to this, physicists in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg earn the best, and the worst in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Overall, there is a relatively strong east-west divide in income in physics. While the old federal states have an average salary of 69,480 euros, physicists in the east (including Berlin) have to be content with 57,720 euros.
Salary of physicists in research and teaching
In the public sector, physicists usually receive a salary that is based on binding collective agreements. A doctorate does not change the salary prospects in the public service, but it does improve the chances of success in the application process.
In classical research, the career usually begins as a research assistant at a university. In state institutions such as universities, the salary for physicists is based on the collective agreement of the federal states (TV-L). According to oeffentlicher-dienst.info, physicists with a master’s degree are classified in pay group 13 with an initial salary of around 48,000 euros. This can rise to around 70,000 euros over time.
In non-university research institutions, the salary is usually based on the collective bargaining agreement of the federal states, but can also be significantly higher in individual cases.
The salary of professors is determined by the salary levels of the federal states (see table of basic salaries and salary adjustments of the German University Association as PDF).
According to the German University Association, the W-salary results in the following gross annual income (As of July 2020):
- W1 for young professors between 53,930 (Hesse) and 62,739 euros (Baden-Württemberg)
- W2 for professors between 63,492 (Bremen) and 79,002 euros (Baden-Württemberg)
- W3 for professors in management positions between 75,073 (Hesse) and 89,683 euros (Baden-Württemberg)
Participation in research projects, the publication of specialist books or even research and performance benefits increase the basic salary and vary depending on the salary group.
Differences between science and business
Physicists have special analytical skills that are seen as key competencies in many companies. Therefore, they have a good chance of a career in management. Whether in medicine, the insurance industry, archeology, climate research or industry - the possible applications in the economy are diverse. According to the DPG, around 80 percent of all physicists who have studied end up in non-physics professions in the course of their professional careers.
As a rule, better salaries are paid in the economy than in science and research, where the average salary according to the 2020 salary report is 55,200 euros. However, this does not apply to every industry. While physicists in the fields of electrical engineering, precision mechanics and optics receive an average annual salary of EUR 61,544, they earn an average of only EUR 48,167 in the construction industry. The exact salary for a physicist in business depends not only on specialization, but also on the industry, the size of the company and very much on the company's location.
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