Top Countries With the Highest Paid Salaries for Scientists

Published: Dec 21, 2017 By


It’s no secret that the life sciences are increasingly international. Most of the largest biopharma companies, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, for example, all have significant international operations, in development, manufacturing and marketing.

The Scientist conducted an extensive international survey of 2,500 life science professionals around the world, asking them questions about job status, compensation, satisfaction, and inclusion of women and minorities, as well as other topics. Here’s a look.

Regional Salaries

The survey roughly split the world into five regions—U.S. & Canada, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania. Perhaps not surprisingly, scientists and life scientists in the U.S. and Canada were paid the most, earning an average of $94,894 per year in 2017.



The Scientist noted, “Moreover, 68 percent of life scientists working in the U.S. and Canada report that they’ve received a raise within the last year. And although only 30 percent report negotiating their salaries, these respondents were the most likely to do so of those from any region; in Latin America, by contrast, only 10 percent of life science professionals said they’d negotiated their compensation.”

Industry versus Academia

Traditionally, biopharmaceutical companies, manufacturing, or contract research organizations (CRO) have paid better than academic research centers. Industry professionals in the life sciences averaged about $125,936 annually, compared to $86,021 for academics, and $97,525 for those in other sectors like government.

“I’ve seen even higher wages [in industry] than what’s been reported in this recent survey, said Cornell University labor economist Michael Roach, to The Scientist. He was referring to his own survey, which is yet to be published, and focuses on the private sector. But in terms of industry salaries, he notes, “It’s always been that way.” In academia, he says, “There’s a high demand for faculty positions. If people try to make demands for very high salaries, then universities will go on to the next most able person. They’re really not going to give in…. This helps keep wages from getting too big.”

Gender Differences

The Scientist notes, “There were far more male than female respondents within senior levels in U.S. academia, especially amongst full professors, which, according to economist Shulamit Kahn of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, reflects a larger trend. “There are a ton more men at the full professor level,” she says.

But it’s not necessarily due to a response bias and it’s potentially a trend that is ending. Roach says the situation is improving. “The practices around recruiting graduates, mentoring graduates, and hiring graduates have changed over time, to where we do have greater equality now than we did 20 years ago. Come back and do this (survey) 10-15 years from now, and I would expect that the number of full professors could be very equal as well,” Roach says.

Or to sum up that thought, Donna Ginther, director of the Center for Science, Technology & Economic Policy, says, “There are more male professors in the senior ranks because women were less likely to obtain PhDs 20 to 30 years ago.”

A comparison of men’s and women’s salaries by job type in the U.S. is dramatic, with men making more per year than women in all categories by up to a third more. Men in academia reported an average salary of $98,374 compared to women reporting $73,923, but in industry there was a startling discrepancy, with men reporting $142,248 compared to $106,588 for women.

Chart 1: Comparing Men and Women’s Salaries across Industries in the U.S.



Within academia, there are still differences based on gender, but they’re much smaller. Arguably, for professors, post-doctorates and graduate students, the difference between males and females is so small as to be statistically insignificant. One notable area is for associate professors, where the males reported $112,775 per year and women reported $100,802 per year.

Chart 2: Comparing Men and Women’s Salaries for Academic Life Science Positions in the U.S.

Assoc. Prof.
Assist. Prof.
Grad Student


The Scientist writes, “Gender differences in salary also appear to be improving. In a soon-to-be-published study, Kahn says she and her colleagues found a roughly 17 percent difference in pay between men and women in the sciences. But, she says, most of those salary differences were accounted for by a variety of factors, including pay gaps by sector. For instance, those who work in industry get paid more, and in general, there are fewer women in industry.”

Money Isn’t Everything?

Granted, it’s easier to say that “money isn’t everything” when you have enough. However, the survey also considered nonfinancial issues, such as job satisfaction. After all, in all sectors, in all regions, anywhere from 26 percent to 48 percent of survey respondents indicated they were satisfied with the overall compensation—which means more than half to three-quarters aren’t happy with their pay.

But are they satisfied with their jobs? In that respect, people in the sciences have a high level of satisfaction with their careers. It’s particularly high in the U.S., Canada and Europe, where 85 percent reported they felt stimulated by their work, compared with 70 percent in Asia and 75 percent in Latin America.

Roach notes to The Scientist that there are “nonfinancial work factors that drive work satisfaction.”

In his own work, he has conducted interviews with hundreds of researchers and notes that a common theme in terms of job satisfaction is a researcher’s ability to pursue one’s own research goals and interests.

“We see in our research that salary is not typically a driving factor, as it might be in other kinds of careers. Intellectual challenge and a fit and interest with the type of work that you’re doing is typically pretty important. It’s really much more [about] doing exciting and interesting things,” Roach says.

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