As a whole, psychology is a well-paid profession. The median wage of $79,010 for psychologists is more than double the median salary for all occupations, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Yet psychologists with the same credentials working in different fields can see big differences in their earning potential. Some branches of psychology see median salaries in or near the six-figure range. The same is true of certain employment settings and sectors. Each type of role in psychology has higher-earning jobs and lower-earning jobs, and the differences between these wages can add up to tens of thousands of dollars per year.
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Management Roles in Psychology
Leadership roles are usually the most lucrative, so it comes as no surprise that high salaries accompany these roles in the field of psychology. Psychologists who work in management roles enjoy a median, or midpoint, wage of $110,000 and a mean, or average salary of $136,260, according to the most recent data from the American Psychological Association (APA). Management roles in psychology may have general psychologist job titles but include supervising interns, counseling personnel and direct-care staff, or they may have job titles like Clinical Supervisor.
Generally, the more people you are responsible for managing, the better your earning potential. The APA reported salaries of $110,000 for psychologists who directly supervise a staff of five to 20 workers and $141,000 for those who are indirectly responsible for teams of more than 20. However, psychologists who had to directly supervise more than 20 workers often see lower wages than those responsible for fewer employees.
For-profit entities in the private sector pay the most for psychologists in management roles, with a median wage of $150,000 and an average salary of $232,250, the APA reported. After the private sector, government roles in management are some of the best-paying for psychologists. The federal government has a high average wage of $129,413, while the state government has a higher median wage – $111,300, compared to $106,000 for federal positions.
Among educational institutions, private institutions pay considerably more than public ones, with a median wage of $106,000 versus $64,000 and a mean salary of $98,090 compared to $75,279, the APA reported.
Careers in Psychological Research
If you’re drawn to research as opposed to clinical practice, you’re in luck. After management, research is the highest-paying job function for psychologists. The APA reported a median wage of $95,000 for research psychologists. Again, the for-profit private sector accounts for the most profitable roles, with a median wage of $132,000 and an average salary of $144,800. Non-profit organizations also pay particularly well, paying median salaries of $125,000 and mean wages of $113,588.
One factor that affects how much research psychologists earn is the type of research they pursue. Applied research roles pay the most, with the APA reporting a median wage of $100,000 and a mean salary of $116,622. Similarly, development roles, which involve using research findings to create practical devices and materials, earn a $96,000 median salary and an $81,955 average salary. The lowest-paying type of research is basic research, or research done for the sake of pure scientific discovery as opposed to practical application. The median wage for psychologists doing basic research is half that of psychologists in applied research.
Educational institutions make up almost half of all research jobs for psychologists. Public institutions actually pay more than private institutions in this field, with median wages of $80,000 compared to just $50,000 and average wages of $84,000 compared to $62,643.
Professional Service Psychologist Roles
When most people think of psychologists, it’s largely the professional service role that they imagine. Jobs like school psychologist, clinical psychologist and counseling psychologist, which all fall into these professional service categories, are the most plentiful as well as the most recognizable. The BLS reported that jobs in these three fields account for 147,500 of the 166,600 psychologist jobs in the United States – or more than 88 percent of careers in the field.
Although the BLS reports a median salary of $76,990 for these roles, the APA data shows that there’s a great deal of difference between wages for psychologists in professional service. Psychologists who are self-employed in non-incorporated entities have the highest earning potential, with a median wage of $120,000 and a mean salary of $139,591.
Self-employed psychologists in incorporated entities had the greatest variance in salary ranges of all psychologists in professional service functions, showing that there’s some element of risk when it comes to self-employment and running a private practice.
Psychology Degree Paths to Seek Out
When you’re looking to maximize your earning potential as an aspiring psychologist, salary data provides some guidance – but you need to think about your career preparation and experience opportunities, as well.
Psychologists looking for high wages would do well to consider a degree in industrial-organizational psychology, which is associated with a median wage of $125,000, the APA reported. Experimental psychology degrees are also linked with a high median wage, and they equip students with the skills to work in well-paid research roles.
As for careers that might not measure up salary-wise, education is one of the less lucrative paths. Educational psychology degrees have the lowest median wages. The median wage for all teaching roles for psychologists is just $62,000.