The typical U.S. scientist is a white male college professor of around 50 who juggles teaching and research, has been in his job a decade or more, and earns between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, according to a survey of almost 700 researchers undertaken by THE SCIENTIST.
His salary accounts for almost all of his income, although he makes a little extra from such activities as consulting, honoraria, writing and, in one case, growing grapes. His employer underwrites a long vacation, sick leave and professional travel, and picks up part of the bill for his retirement plan and insurance, which includes hospitalization, major medical, dental, life, and disability. The scientist thinks these benefits are adequate, but not excellent. He pays for his own books and journal subscriptions.
The survey instrument was mailed late last fall to more than 3,500 U.S. scientists in six disciplines: biology, physics, chemistry, earth sciences, mathematics and computer science. Names and addresses were provided by Response Marketing, Inc., a New York-based list broker.
There was no follow-up to the survey, and respondents were asked to supply their names and addresses as well as detailed information on their incomes. The response rate was slightly more than 19 percent, yielding a sample of 682 scientists.
Chemists were the most responsive: almost 24 percent of them re turned the questionnaire. More than 20 percent of the biologists, physicists and mathematicians responded. Only about 15 percent of the computer scientists, and 12 percent of the earth scientists, chose to participate.
Although THE SCIENTIST'S sample was heavily academic (59 percent of the surveyed researchers work in a university setting, compared with 23 percent in industry and 18 percent in government, non-profit organizations and "other" locations), their income was higher than some other surveys have reported. Physicists earned a median of roughly $57,000, chemists $56,500, biologists $53,500 and earth scientists $52,500. Mathematicians were at the bottom of the salary rankings, with a median of $47,500, and computer scientists were at the top, at $63,000.
These earnings are higher than unpublished 1985 salary data for doctoral-level scientists obtained from the National Science Foundation. The Foundation reports that the median salary for biological scientists was $40,500, for mathematicians $41,800, for chemists and computer specialists $46,000, for earth scientists $47,500, and for physicists $48,400.
The higher incomes in THE SCIENTIST survey probably reflect the sample's age and seniority. Less than 2 percent of the group was under 35; about 22 percent was between 35 and 44, 36 percent between 45 and 54, and almost 30 percent between 55 and 64. Ten percent of the sample was beyond retirement age. The group was also 93 percent white and male. In the National Science Foundation survey, 15 percent of the group was under 35; 40 percent was between 35 and 44; 27 percent was between 45 and 54; 15 percent was between 55 and 64; and 3 percent was 65 years or older.
THE SCIENTIST'S survey also sought data about other forms of compensation for scientists, especially benefits, that are rarely reported on. Here are some of the responses. (In all cases, n=682; answers are given in percentages, rounded to the nearest whole number.)