SPIE Career Center
Salary Report

2017 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report


The optics and photonics community is composed of workers and students on every continent, engaged in disciplines ranging from aerospace to semiconductor to biotechnology. The Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report provides the community with up-to-date information on pay, job satisfaction, and other important workplace topics. A key goal of the report is to provide a reference for employees, students, and managers interested in understanding compensation across the career landscape: How does my pay compare with that of my colleagues? What is a typical mid-career salary in my country? What can I expect to earn in industry versus academia?

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 provided by nearly 10,000 individuals in 103 countries1 who shared career information in a short online survey.

This is the seventh annual survey and report, the largest such study in the optics and photonics community. This year’s report greatly increases detailed information on salaries in individual countries by career stage, organization type, and job level. For instance, median salaries by career stage are reported for the first time for Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Taiwan (see Wage Growth).

Unless otherwise noted, all salary data is for full-time workers. For a complete list of participant countries and other details on survey methodology, please see Methodology and Footnotes.


  • The median salary for full-time employees is $65,000, up slightly from $62,443 last year.2 Salaries are very widely dispersed, primarily driven by country economic conditions and organization type.
  • Salaries paid in Chinese yuan have remained nearly flat since 2014, following a gain of 33% from 2011 through 2014. Euro salaries were flat, while earnings in U.S. dollars were up 5%, pay in British pounds was up 10%, and Japanese yen earnings declined 5%.
  • Entry-level pay for PhDs is highest in Switzerland, where employees with 1 to 2 years of experience earn a median salary of $81,970. The United States, Australia, and Germany follow, with respective salaries of $79,750, $61,562, and $53,465.
  • The highest-paid discipline is aerospace, with a median income of $110,000. Aerospace has held the top spot for all seven years that the survey has been conducted.
  • Median salaries are 37% higher overall for men than for women, though median pay is equal during the first two years of employment. 71% of women feel that they are paid fairly, versus 79% of men.
  • Survey respondents are highly satisfied with their jobs overall: 96% enjoy their work, 95% find their work meaningful, and 93% feel that their work is respected by their peers.
  • 32% of workers in higher-income Asian countries work 50 or more hours per week. 21% of Ukrainian workers report working 55 or more hours per week, the largest percentage of any country.
  • Unsurprisingly, there is a strong positive correlation between higher pay and happiness with pay: Workers who earn more are happier about their pay than workers who earn less. Similarly, people working fewer hours are more satisfied with their work/life balance than those working more.
  • Startups account for just over 15% of workers at for-profit organizations. These workers earn median salaries of $70,000, versus $95,473 for those at traditional companies.
  • More than half of student respondents (59%) are working towards a PhD, followed by 25% pursuing master’s degrees, and 11% seeking a bachelor’s degree.
Distribution of Full Time Salaries
Data Overview