Friday, March 19, 2010

Salary and Experience using Salary Survey Data

In an effort to keep our arguments backed up with solid data, we return to the salary survey.

It is time that we revealed to you, Museos, how much the average museum salary goes up per year.  There is good news, and there is bad news.

Good news:  it does go up!

Bad news: it really doesn’t go up that much!

[Disclaimerzzz: Sample size was 99 full time people.  We didn’t have responses for every year, so that explains the gaps between the dots. This chart goes through the first 25 years since that is where we had the most data, although we had responses up to 34 years in the field.  There were too many gaps as we got farther along to really have the data be representative.]


The peak at 8 years is due to two of our respondents who have been in the field 8 years seem to have really high paying jobs.  The peak at 25 years was due to there being few responses at that year, and they are obviously doing really well!

The trend line reveals the real rate of change of Museo salaries.

y = 1124x + 32764

For those of you who maybe forget what that means, basically it translates into saying that the average starting salary (the y-intercept) is around $32,764, and for every year you work over that, the average increase (the slope) is $1,124 more per year.

Except that our trend line is obviously thrown by those [3] people earning more than $100,000, our “outliers.”  So keep that in mind.  Look more at what the actual data looks like.  For most people, the reality is far below the trend line.


Keep in mind for the future: a larger sample size will help us get closer to the truth.  We hope that you will participate next year when we repeat our great experiment!


  1. It would be interesting to see how this data is affected by the past two years in which almost no one in the sector has received a pay raise, and many have accepted pay reductions to keep their jobs. I'm also wondering how long it will take for cost of living increases to rebound after economic factors palpably improve. I suspect that even when contributed revenue streams become strong again, a post-recessionary bunker mentality will remain and pay raises will be slower to catch up.

  2. @Jeffrey,
    You're right! Museo salaries probably will not rebound back to where they were 4 years ago (which still wasn't that great, keep in mind) and Museos will be facing low pay forever. That's why we need out of the box thinking and solutions.

    I would say the data is the data, so who cares what it would have been 2 years ago? Every Museo here can agree, the game is changing and pay is low. Period.

    What do you think? What are some possible solutions you see for improving museo salaries, or even just bringing them back to pre-recession standards?

  3. @Kat,
    This is a very tough one. It all hinges upon funders and the strings that they attach to gifts. Of course, almost no one ever wants to contribute to general operating support (GOS), which could be used for salaries; private donors and foundations want to give to projects that have visible, quantifiable, and reportable results, or are notably sexier than funding the salaries of those who execute the programs that they fund. It's identical to the way in which almost no one wants to help pay for infrastructure improvements. Some grants wisely allow funds to be used to cover salaries for the hours spent on the respective projects. But often, these may fund temporary positions.

    The other area that could help improve salaries would be endowment gifts, wherein the return on the investment can be used for GOS. However, in light of the hit that most endowments have taken in the recession, who wants to give to replenish an endowment?

    I think that some kind of comprehensive awareness campaign in which this dilemma is presented tactfully and sincerely to funders could help. But it will take a long time to change opinions and giving habits, if it were to even have an effect. You will always have the folks who want to give millions for art acquisitions (whose gifts are well-appreciated, that goes without saying), but who won't endow a museum for the human cost of caring for these objects and presenting them to the public in a thoughtful and educational manner.

  4. First, this is really interesting. Thanks for putting this together.

    Second (and maybe for the future), do you have any information on job growth in museums over the years for these folks? My decision to leave my museum for graduate school--or if I had left for another museum job-- was growth. Museums generally have very hierarchical structures that can leave entry level employees stuck.

    I'm wondering if the opportunity for growth in museums matches this salary slope.

  5. @Colleen -
    Good question. On this survey, we didn't really ask people to classify their job as entry level, mid level, etc. We also did not ask for job title, mostly to keep everyone comfortable with the anonymous aspect of the whole thing.

    In the next survey, we could probably ask people where they see themselves on their career trajectory. Or perhaps we could ask how many people in their department are ranked above and below them?

    Do you have any suggestions on a good way to get this information through one or two questions?

  6. Salary discussions are practically useless without information about museum budgets. Salaries are going to continue to be low until museums can generate more income. A small, local house museum with an annual operating budget of $100,000 cannot afford to pay its 1-2 staff members much more than minimum wage. Also realize that benefits and overhead costs can actually double someone's salary. For example, someone making $30K is probably costing the museum around $50K-$60K in benefits and HR costs. Even someone who is not getting any benefits still has "overhead" costs, which can add thousands to what the museum is paying them in salary.

    So the real problem is not how can we raise museum salaries but how can we raise museum income? Salary and benefits will naturally go up as museum income increases.

  7. @Deb
    What a perfect segue into our "Solutions Series" - the first of which has been posted - that discusses just that problem. Museums need more money. We need some wacky ideas on how to get more money, ideas soooo crazy that they just might work.

    Would you perhaps be interested in contributing a guest post? If so, please email us at museosuniteblog at gmail dot com.

  8. @Deb,

    Your comments are on point and made me want to come back to my ruminations on endowments. I was taught this as a budgetary rule of thumb: for every paid position in an organization, you need to have $1,000,000 in your endowment. If you budget a 5% annual return on each million, it earns $50,000 for salary and other expenses per employee. 5% was a good average to rely on for many years, but at present, it's totally shot to hell. Most endowments have taken a negative return in the past two years, i.e. the endowment lost money.

    Now overlay this with the fact that much of contributed income is restricted from being used to cover general operating expenses. What we are looking at is the bitter reality that improvements in Museo salaries will probably not come until the economy recovers significantly. Even when the economy has recovered enough for giving to rebound to pre-recessionary levels, donors will be reluctant to give to replenish endowments, so gifts will be carefully restricted. This means that endowment and salary rebound will lag further behind economic recovery trends.

    I know that I'm not offering any solution here; this is really a challenging conundrum. But I think that the first step is understanding the problem from as many angles as possible.