Aerospace and semiconductor disciplines enjoy the highest median earnings, at $120,000 and $110,000, respectively. Civil/environmental falls at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a median salary of $40,000.
The two most important factors driving salary gaps across disciplines are employment sector and country income level. The highest-paying disciplines have much higher representation at for-profit companies: The top three disciplines by pay (aerospace, semiconductor, and systems) have 401 people at for-profits versus 148 combined in government/military and academia.
AR/VR is the ultimate future for career advancements.
Country income level has a similar impact on median salaries of optics and photonics disciplines. In the highest-paid category, aerospace, 87% of workers are located in North America or higher-income European countries.
If you want to work in aerospace, go for it. It is super dynamic and lots is happening. The hours are long, the work is hard (even though it is satisfying).