Thursday, February 18, 2010

Salary Survey Post # 1: Preliminary Salary Analysis

Hi Museos.  Okay, so here is the moment you’ve been waiting for.  I am going to start with just our full time museos as far as salary analysis. 

Let me explain one assumption I had to make, as this affects the results.  For people who reported their exact salary, we used that number.  For everyone else, we used the middle number of the range.  In actuality, this does not make a huge difference in our calculations (I recalculated based on using the low- and high-ends of the range, just to check).  The difference on either side is about $2,700.

That said, let’s get down to our very first, simple analysis.

For full time museos (n=99)

Mean (average) Salary: $40,360.76
Standard Deviation: $23,426

Mode (most often occurring) Salary: $30-35,000


Median (number in the middle of the data set): $34,250

Range, or the infamous "Wage Discrepancy"
(difference between lowest reported exact salary and highest reported exact salary): $94,102.50


So what does this all mean in plain English?

1 – the average salary is about $40,000.  That is for respondents ranging from just starting out to working for less than a year up to 34 years, people.  THAT IS INSANELY LOW considering that range of time working.  Think about it for a minute… think about the fact that some people are making over $100,000 (as seen above).  That should pull up the average.  It IS pulling it up.  To a mere $40,000. 

2 – The most often reported salary is somewhere between $30-35,000.  That is $5-10,000 below the average salary.  You do the math.  Museos are more often paid less than the average salary.

3 – The median of our data set is $34,250, which makes sense.  That means if you were to lay out all the reported salaries in a row, the middle number would be $34,250, with half the people making more than that and half the people making less than that.  NOTICE: our median is ~$6,000 below our average.  That means there are more people earning below average than above average.

4 – The ‘wage discrepancy’ which was the inspiration behind the whole salary survey is HUGE.  $94,102.50.  That is the difference between our top earner and our lowest earner. 

5 – Take a moment and look at yourself in the mirror, seriously.  Are you hoping/expecting that someday you will be up in that top 10% (which is, interestingly, making more than $57,000 – only 10% of those we surveyed make more than that!!!)?  Do you think that staying quiet, keeping your head down, doing more work and getting paid less will get you there? 

Or is it time to start a revolution?


Conclusions: There is a big difference between high pay and low pay in museums.  More people are earning below the average salary than above it.  The average salary for a museo is not that high, really.


Comments? Are you surprised? Not? Do you agree or disagree with these results?  Remember, this is meant to be a starting point for our analysis, so never fear, more details to come!


  1. Breakouts by institution type & field please!

  2. Hi everyone... this is our first post of MANY (and we will also make a big PDF of all the results in the end). It will be a couple weeks before we break things down and have all kinds of graphs.

    NEVER FEAR! @CJ Nye, we will be breaking down by institution type, field, gender, degree, years experience, and other things.

    All in good time :o)

  3. Wow! I wish I had been shown some stats like that before I started takings internships in museums. I can't believe how low those salaries are, especially when you consider how many older people are in the museum world. I've since transitioned to the non-profit world and even though I don't make a huge salary, it's definitely better than most of these numbers!

  4. @ CJ Nye Yes, what Kat said. We both have FT jobs so this is sort of like taking on a massive research project just for funsies. We don't want to keep you waiting forever (hence the rolling results out in waves) but we also want to take care to do the final report as professionally as possible, so total tabulation will be a little while in coming.

    @Anon I've been telling people I make an above-average museum salary because I make a living wage. Not so! Even for those of us who were pretty sure these results would be dire, this is interesting data.

  5. Hmmm, interesting. $40,000 pa works out at about £25,000pa - which, I think, would be considered fairly good going in Britain. Not great, but not awful. Certainly do-able. (Salaries were MUCH lower than this when I was first looking for museum work - £11K per annum, for example). Maybe not in London (but you would expect to get a London-weighting to take into account the higher cost of living). Obviously we're talking about different contexts here, but interesting as a comparison all the same.

  6. @Amy UK and US data were mixed in the survey so both contributed to calculating the average, though our respondents were heavily from the US. We should probably eventually show US salaries vs non-US salaries, though that data is a little iffy. (We're not sure if people converted currencies or not, even though they were asked to.)

    £25,000 would definitely be a good salary in the UK, and while it's low there are social safety nets in place in Europe that we just straight up don't have in the US. Employed, not making a lot of money, and don't get health insurance through your job? Then you don't have health insurance. Even if you have it, it might not cover much. Public transportation and walkable city centers? Pah! If you're lucky. UK universities also cost less so graduates end up carrying less debt. If I didn't need a car and didn't have student loans and didn't have to pay for healthcare then $40,000 would be more than sufficient. As it is, it's the bare minimum. I can't save up for retirement and I can't have a cushion of money stored up for if I get sick and my insurance refuses to cover me. The salaries might work out to be similar in terms of money, but the context is really what makes all the difference.

    Do you happen to know when the MA first came out with salary guidelines? Was it after you first entered the field? It would be interesting to see if that had a major effect on the average salary.

  7. Truly what I'm waiting for is the break down with degrees. $30K doesn't sound bad, until you realize that's often someone with at least an MA (maybe even a PhD), and years of experience. Even from the chart above, that's obviously not the "entry-level" wage.

    Also, a question - what's up with the "full-time" wage under $10K? Is that person outside the US? (Because at 40 hours/week, $10K is less than minimum wage.)

  8. A note on "wage discrepancy: -- you're not getting the high end. That's always published in the 990s that nonprofits submit to the IRS, and it's available on Guidestar. Might be worth adding some of that data in, or using for comparison.

  9. @kaial We haven't graphed any of that yet, but you're absolutely right. "Entry level" in museums does often mean highly educated, and we really didn't question people about their entry level wage. Do you think that's something we should consider for future surveys? Or would that vary too much for the person who started working in museums in 1970 vs 2010 to be useful for much?

    @Steven Lubar That's the trouble with a self-selecting sample! The most highly paid Directors aren't the ones taking salary surveys on a blog on the internet. I think about a month ago we did do a post about extremely high salaries reported on 990s and how they skew perceptions of museum pay, but it was Kat's post so I'm not intimately familiar with the details.

  10. @kaial Oops missed out the last part. I think that figure is an internship stipend, but that's just because we're semi-sure whose data it was. In the future we need to include a category for paid internships so intern salaries don't skew the data.

  11. The MA Salary Guidelines came out after 2004 - which was, yes, some six years after I first started to look for museum/gallery work. And yes, it made a big difference. That's not to say that the really low-paid jobs no longer exist - they just aren't advertised in the Museums Journal and Jim won't add them to the Leicester Job Desk.

    See here:

  12. @Amy I know Jim won't, which is awesome. I think more jobs clearinghouses should take a similar stand. This blog was actually prompted by two things: one was a post from New Curator and the other was a Twitter convo I had with a Philadelphia area jobs board about the terribly compensated positions they were posting. I think it would make a significant difference if a) the AAM came out with salary guidelines and b) only fairly paid jobs could be listed on reputable boards. Of course there are about 10 terms that would need to be defined in there. What is fair? What is a reputable jobs board? Etc etc.

    Re: MA salary guideline history, mind if I pick your brain over email/Tumblr message at some point? Guidelines are probably the main thing we want out of the AAM, and it would be good to have data on the success of guidelines elsewhere.

  13. I'd like to see the male/female breakdown, too.

  14. @anonymous -- no problem, that will be forthcoming in the next week or so.

  15. (from kaial - it doesn't like my OpenID today!)
    Oops, didn't see your response til now Kirsten. Yes, I do think it would be very instructive to look at entry level salaries. I wonder if you could ask what year that was, and somehow automagically tie it to inflation, or set up a script to adjust it for inflation?
    That would give all sorts of interesting information (for instance, I'd wager that the inflation-adjusted "entry-level" salary has probably gone down, while education/experience to get that job has gone up).

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