By Adjunct Professor James Athanasou MAPS, University of Technology, Sydney,
and private practice

- Comparisons of salaried psychologistsIn my 33 years working as a vocational psychologist in government, university and private practice settings, it has been pleasing to see psychology develop and expand as a profession. The profession now encompasses around 29,000 psychologists and has achieved significant recognition in the community. There is now considerable scope for employment or private practice, and there is every reason to suggest that newcomers to the field can expect to earn a reasonable lifetime income.

This brief article describes the earnings of psychologists and compares them to other popular professions. I also consider the earnings of male and female psychologists, as well as the growth in incomes over the last 12 years, to provide some indication of the income trajectory. At the same time I thought that it might be of interest to readers to see how the earnings of psychologists compare to other occupations.

The comparisons that I use are based on the official statistics from the biennial Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours (ABS, 1998–2010). The earnings figures are based on a survey of employers and cover only employed psychologists. Naturally, they exclude those self-employed psychologists in private practice. The number of employers and employees sampled was not available.

Comparison with other professions

The average weekly ordinary time earnings for full-time adult male psychologists in 2010 were $1,906.40 pw (gross) compared with $1,570.40 pw (gross) for females.
A comparison with other professions is provided in Table 1. Male psychologists are placed after GPs, physiotherapists and academics, whereas female psychologists come after barristers, university academics and GPs in the latest ABS survey. Generally males in the professions earned more than females, but the two exceptions were female barristers and counsellors who earn more than their male counterparts. The differences reflect the nature of the employment as well as the historical supply or demand situation within an occupation. Each occupation is idiosyncratic in its traditions and employment patterns. The conclusion from this limited sampling of occupations is that psychologists are reasonably well-placed amongst a cohort of different professional groups. A complete listing of professions is available upon request.

Comparison from 1998–2010

While earnings have increased across all occupations since 1998, the rate of growth for psychologists has outpaced that of all occupations combined (see Figure 1). This applies to both males and females. From 1998–2010, the average earnings of all males increased by 76 per cent, whereas male psychologist earnings grew by 115 per cent (all percentages rounded); for females the increase was 62 per cent for all occupations and 109 per cent for psychologists. Male and female psychologists’ earnings grew at a reasonably comparable rate but clearly outstripped that of all other occupations combined.

How does this compare with four-year trained secondary school teachers or social workers? Well, again psychologists (male and female combined) did rather well. Their earnings grew from 1998–2010 by 105 per cent compared with 67 per cent for teachers, 66 per cent for social workers and 75 per cent for all occupations. This does not take into account the additional two year’s training for psychologists. Comparisons with other occupations are limited due to the fact the Government statistician does not report data for some groups where sample sizes are too small.

Conclusions

It seems a reasonable proposal to suggest that psychology in comparison with other Australian professions offers an above-average income to those considering the field as a career. Moreover the earnings are growing at an accelerated rate compared to all other occupations. There are still some gender differences in earnings within this occupation that seem inexplicable at first glance, but a discussion of the reasons is well beyond the scope of this brief descriptive analysis. Of course, these figures do not include earnings for private practice. Furthermore, the figures cited are average earnings and this can be misleading as averages tend to hide as much as they reveal. It will be the case that considerable numbers of employed psychologists will be earning below the average while others, probably those with some seniority or higher qualifications, will be earning well above these average figures.

The author can be contacted at athanasou@optusnet.com.au .