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Industry Snapshot

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SPIE’s annual salary survey offers a broad-ranging look at the current state of the industry.

SPIE released the results of its latest annual global optics and photonics salary survey – the largest such international study of the industry – in May. It was conducted in February, with just over 6000 valid responses from 103 countries. The questions focused on salary, job satisfaction and other factors that affect employees in all aspects of the industry.

On the whole, the survey is a useful tool for recruiters and educators, as well as a vibrant snapshot of the industry: where it is today and where it’s going. Here, we present some of the most interesting findings.


Aerospace remained the highest-paid sector again this year, with a median annual income of $116,269, followed by semiconductor at $102,567 and illumination at $100,000. The median salary for all respondents was $73,000, similar to results from previous years. Around this midpoint, salaries were widely distributed; differences are driven primarily by employer type and country income level.

The gender gap has not disappeared: Men’s median salaries were 40% higher overall than women’s, and the largest gap appeared in late career. Women made more than men only in Latin America and the Caribbean, where their salaries were 10% higher. Elsewhere in the world, women’s median salaries ranged from 11% lower in Oceania to 67% lower in Africa and higher-income Asia.

The gender salary disparity hurts not only women looking for rewarding careers, but society as a whole, said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs: “We cannot afford to continue to discourage 51% of the next generation from working to help find the vital solutions to the world’s challenges in developing sustainable energy supplies, improving health care, ensuring viability of our communication networks, and safeguarding our communities.”


The work week varied geographically as well. Romania reported the heaviest workload, with 21% of respondents saying they worked 55 hours or more per week. In higher-income Asian countries, 40% of workers worked 50 or more hours per week; those in Japan reported working the most hours (20% work more than 55 hours per week). Those in Australia and Sweden worked the least, with only 5% of Australians and no Swedes reporting work weeks longer than 55 hours.


Overall, job satisfaction continued to run high for photonics workers – 85% said they enjoyed their work, and 88% reported respecting the work of their peers – and the top factors did not correlate with salary or hours on the job. “The considerable level of job satisfaction should come as no surprise to those of us who work in the photonics industry,” Arthurs said. “Throughout the world, throughout the various sectors of the industry, we value the ability to play a part in solving the world’s important challenges and the opportunity to contribute to making tangible improvements in the lives of others.”

Job satisfaction, good pay and opportunity for advancement are key messages in reaching out to students to encourage them to pursue optics and photonics, Arthurs said.


For the first time this year, respondents were asked about job mobility. North American respondents reported the most frequent job changes: Only 10% had worked at the same organization throughout their entire careers, while 27% of higher-income Asians said they had been at the same organization the whole time, along with 38% of higher-income Europeans and 50% of lower-income Asians.


Along with the question about mobility, respondents were also asked for the first time this year about career success. Across the international photonics community, from academia to for-profit organizations to government and military institutions, workers said that the success of their work teams was among the top factors in defining their career success. But the sectors shared widely varying responses as to what other factors complete the definition.

The survey results presented here came from SPIE’s annual salary survey. For the full 2014 results, visit

While the top two career success factors were the same for academics and government and military workers (scientific discovery followed by team success), for-profit workers’ top two were team success followed by the organization’s success. The trends held across regions of varying pay ranges, as well as varying work-week lengths.

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2014
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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