SPIE Career Center
Salary Report

2018 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report


The optics and photonics community includes 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 this 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 from over 7,000 individuals in 102 countries1 who shared career information in a short online survey. This is the eighth annual survey and report, the largest such study in the optics and photonics community.

Unless otherwise noted, all results are based on full-time workers. For a complete list of participant countries and other details on survey methodology, please see Methodology and Endnotes.


  • The median salary for full-time employees is $71,748, up over ten percent from $65,000 last year.2 This increase likely reflects the growing global economy and tight labor markets for the highly-skilled workers in our community.
  • Salaries paid in Chinese yuan are up 25% versus last year, and have increased an impressive 67% since 2011. Euro salaries were flat, while earnings are up three percent in U.S. dollars, up one percent in Japanese yen, and down two percent in British pounds.
  • Early-career pay for PhDs is highest in Switzerland, where employees with 1 to 2 years of experience earn a median salary of $84,082. The United States, Germany, and Canada follow, with respective salaries of $83,500, $66,965, and $58,225.
  • The highest-paid discipline is aerospace, with a median income of $112,764. Aerospace has held the top spot for all eight years that the survey has been conducted.
  • Median salaries are 28% higher overall for men than for women, though gaps in median pay are smaller during early career stages. 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.
  • 31% of workers in higher-income Asian countries work 50 or more hours per week versus 22% in North America and 14% in higher-income European countries.
  • Most full-time workers (69%) identify as engineers. Within this group, 65% have engineering degrees and are working as engineers, 22% have engineering degrees but are not currently working as engineers, and 14% work as engineers without having engineering degrees.
  • Startups account for just over 16% of workers at for-profit organizations. These workers earn median salaries of $80,787, versus $96,000 for those at traditional companies.
  • Almost two thirds of student respondents (61%) 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