SPIE Career Center
Salary Report

2019 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-todate 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 6,000 individuals in 104 countries1 who shared career information in a short online survey. This is the ninth 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 $74,000, up over three percent from $71,748 last year.2 This increase likely reflects the strength of the global economy, and tight labor markets for the highly-skilled workers in our community.
  • Salaries paid in Chinese yuan are flat versus last year, but have increased an impressive 67% since 2011. Earnings in euro rose 10% while salaries paid in British pounds increased 5%. U.S. dollar and Japanese yen salaries were down two percent and four percent, respectively.
  • Entry-level pay is highest in the United States, where employees with less than one year of experience earn a median salary of $69,500. Germany, Canada, and South Korea follow, with respective entry-level salaries of $62,710, $39,600, and $31,173.
  • The highest-paid discipline is aerospace, with a median income of $120,000. Aerospace has held the top spot for all nine years that the survey has been conducted.
  • Median salaries are 29% higher overall for men than for women, though gaps in median pay are smaller during early career stages.
  • Survey respondents are highly satisfied with their jobs overall: 95% find their work meaningful and enjoy it, while 92% feel that their work is respected by their peers.
  • Japanese workers spend the most time in their offices and labs, with 45% reporting that they work 50 hours or more per week.
  • Most full-time workers (65%) identify as engineers. Within this group, 62% have engineering degrees and are working as engineers, 22% have engineering degrees but are not working as engineers, and 13% work as engineers without having engineering degrees.
  • The largest proportion of engineers are focused on optical engineering (37%), followed by electrical (14%) and mechanical (9%).
  • Startups account for just over 13% of workers at for-profit organizations. These workers earn median salaries of $88,725, versus $101,000 for those at traditional companies.
  • Almost two thirds of student respondents (61%) are working towards a PhD, followed by 22% pursuing master’s degrees, and 13% seeking a bachelor’s degree.

Be passionate about your work, think beyond your area, and try to gauge for possible benefits to society at large.

Distribution of Full Time Salaries
Data Overview