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Architect Salary Increasing?

Apr 21 '11 74 Last Comment
Jordan99
Apr 21, 11 11:32 am

I have read a few different reports stating that Architect salaries have actually increased drastically when juxtaposed with that of 20 years ago. I work at the AIA with a lot of members who are struggling, so I am far from naive, but another part of me wanders if it's more of a reflection of how architects see themselves. A part of me believes that many architects (especially principals) make a lot of money compared to other careers. However they believe they are entitled to more becasue of the time spent climbing the ladder. Architecture is awesome. If you can do a job that's alot of fun and you can get to 6 figures or close, I say you got it made compared to the attorney making 300K.

 

Rusty!
Apr 21, 11 11:46 am

Sure, but is $32k enough? What's this 6th figure you talk about?

med.
Apr 21, 11 12:09 pm

Ok - no way an architect will earn a salary of 300k unless they are an owner or partner of a firm doing good business.

At my previous job (which was at a pretty reputable global organization) some of the serior principals earned as high as 150k perhaps.

Jordan99
Apr 21, 11 12:17 pm

No. Unfortunately that makes things very difficult with the student loan debt that many architects incur. However, 6 figures (or close to it) does seem to come for many architects later in their careers should they stick it out. Some will make it far beyond that number. The average salary is not much different than alot of other professional fields including law (outside the top 5-10% which is increasingly difficult to crack), accounting, engineering (more stability, but not alot more money, hard degree to get), and so on.

I admit it's hard being an architect right now, but the rewards at the top are also higher than many many other professions. 

Jordan99
Apr 21, 11 12:18 pm

I was talking about an attorney making 300K.

tagalong
Apr 21, 11 12:33 pm

The sixth figure is the negative dash that goes in front of the dollar sign when you add up your total net worth after school and a number of years in the profession...

med.
Apr 21, 11 12:38 pm

Don't get me wrong - I think Architects SHOULD make that much.

I mean it's such a joke when they're still not happy when we are 100% billable and attorney's are like 20% billable at best.

Jordan99
Apr 21, 11 12:39 pm

Sadly enough alot of lawyers, and even other professionals with an undergraduate degree feel the same way with the hike in tuition that has taken place over the last 20 years. At least architects usually have variety, and passion for their profession.

med.
Apr 21, 11 12:45 pm

Jordans, not all architects feel that way.

quizzical
Apr 21, 11 1:02 pm

med ... any attorney who's only 20% billable -- unless that person is a managing principal in the firm -- is not long employed. Most of the attorneys I know are like 110%-120% billable.

CMNDCTRL
Apr 21, 11 1:46 pm

jordans- i think this is the problem with the difference between "average" (mean) and median. the median is a much better indicator of reality. my bet is the median would be WAY below this magical ~80k number that architects get assigned by the DOL.

to illustrate this, there could be 9 of us making that lovely 32k number that has been floating around. this is not enough to realistically have a family with, let alone pay down student debt. but add ONE person making 512k (which is well within reason according to Architect Magazine) and the average is magically 80k! on AVERAGE architects would make 80k, but in reality you only have a 10% shot to do so. this is for illustrative purposes, i do not think it is QUITE this bad, but it is close. if you work for the AIA, don't you have better data anyway? i'd love to see median and range data for architects' salaries. i have a feeling it is just like america: all the money at the top?

Rusty!
Apr 21, 11 1:53 pm

I was told there would be no math involved.

burningman
Apr 21, 11 5:23 pm

You get paid what you are worth. Law schools teaches you how to be a lawyer. When you graduate, they keep track of your employment status and salary after graduation because it has a huge ramification on their reputation.

 

These days, architecture school teaches you to be an artist at best, they don't care to teach you how to be an architect, no do they care how much you make or if you even find a job. The less transparent they are about this info, the better their reputation is.

 

Lawyers should make more because they are worth quite a bit more. The write all the codes, then the developers play by them, who in turn has to hire the architect on the bottom of the food chain to figure it out, who then has to find monkies out of school they have to retrain.

jmanganelli
Apr 22, 11 1:27 am

great point, CMNDCTRL

 

jordan, you seem to be making an argument about quality of professional life --- that we are actually well-compensated (despite all evidence to the contrary) and at least we do interesting work --- so therefore we actually have good quality of professional life

 

this line of thinking needs to first incorporate many other considerations before making an assessment

 

what other profession has shrunk as much as ours during the downturn?  which other professions go through boom-bust cycles of the severity that our profession faces?  which of the other professions have a culture of attrition that continues throughout ones career?  which of the other professions have margins that are as small as ours, even in the good times?

 

while yes, some of our work is exciting, much of it is not.  For every architect doing interesting design, there are thousands helping to put up walmarts, maintain military bases, build prisons and put up strip malls --- not that this is bad work, but i think you overstate how exciting our profession is.  it could also be said of engineering, that for every person designing the next boeing jet or NASA satellite, there are thousands designing toilet seats, little retaining walls and sizing HVAC.  ...for every doctor inventing new procedures at a medical research university, there are thousands pulling warts off of unhealthy people in anywheresville, USA.  The interesting stuff that happens in select pockets and at the top of any profession is not usually indicative of what most practitioners do --- not even close.

 

if anything, better analogies for architects are musicians or actors --- a few at the top make insane money ---- but the vast majority just make enough to scrape by, it is tough to succeed, many leave due to intrinsic or extrinsic circumstances, and everyone  going into it (hopefully) knows that the chances for great success, whether financial or with respect to quality of professional life, are low, so the motivation has to be shear passion for the work --- 

 

 

danielKing
Apr 22, 11 2:45 am
J. James R.J. James R.
Apr 22, 11 3:09 am

Yes and no. Salaries have grown– mostly due to inflation and cost-of-living increases– but salaries in nearly all professions have declined. Salaries, for a large part, are complicated to actually calculate. If you were to calculate the median hourly wage, adjust it for inflation and consumer price indexes, you'll find that in all industries that average has been about $17.00 an hour. Before and World War II, wages basically imploded. There was simply a major loss of jobs caused by the Great Depression and technological innovation that took many years to correct.

 

Between the early 1960s til the mid 1970s and even the early 1980s, wages grew from about $17.00 to $19.00 with a peak around ~$19.80 during the late 1970s. From about 1982 til 2002 with an average wage of ~$17.30, wages were largely in decline with a low in 1985 of around ~$16.00. Even today, we're barely at 1981 level of wages at around $17.60. If we adjust purely for CPI, then people who regale us with tails about making $4.50 an hour in 1972 as interns should bit their tongues. That salary is equivalent to roughly $45,000 today excluding overtime or bonuses. None of these figures account for taxes.

 

So, technically, salaries have gone up by your purchasing power has gone down while the number of things you can buy has gone significantly up– people in 1972 didn't have to worry about iPad 2 and being able to buy Singaporean strawberries on Christmas eve.

elinor
Apr 22, 11 12:05 pm

there's an interesting stat in the index section of the current harper's magazine...i may be getting the exact numbers wrong since i don't have the issue with me and it's not posted online...but i think it's pretty close:

 

difference in productivity of american workforce since 1972:  +114%

difference in wages since 1972 : -6%

 

 

le bossman
Apr 22, 11 12:18 pm

As for me I'm far from six figures.  My salary topped of at 46k three years ago; right now I'm making 36k, less than what I started at my previous firm 5 years ago.  I love what I do, and in better times I could make easily 20k more, but not in this economy, not at this job.  

quizzical
Apr 22, 11 5:23 pm

elinor ... without a very specific reference to the underlying data in the Harper's article you mention - and a better undertanding of the context in which that data was presented - the statistics you put forward above must be viewed, I believe, with a certain skepticism.

 

  • First of all, wages in the US have not declined from 1972 through today. I graduated from college with a professional degree in 1972 and I made $3.50 per hour in my first architecture job after graduation - current entry level positions, even in today's economy, pay much more than that.. The federal minimum wage was $1.60/hour in 1972 - it's $7.25 today. The Social Security Administration's "National Wage Index" - which is based on wages subject to federal income taxes and contributions to deferred compensation plans - rose from 7,133 in 1972 to 40,711 in 2009.  See also this graph:

 

  • Now, having said that, it is entirely possible that the purchasing power of wages for the average American worker has declined over that same period fo time. The CPI was 41 in 1972 ... it sat at 220 in January of this year.
  • As for productivity, while US productivity may have risen by 114% since 1972, I suspect productivity has risen much faster in many other countries. That factor, combined with much lower wages found in much of the rest of the world, has placed the US at a competitive disadvantage relative to many of our international trading partners. That has led to the export of many high-paying US jobs and a decline in US competitiveness, further contraining US wages.
elinor
Apr 22, 11 5:29 pm

i assumed it was wages adjusted for inflation, not actual wages, but i will definitely check when i get home...

 

of course, all stats must be taken with a grain of salt...

elinor
Apr 22, 11 5:37 pm

(inflation and other factors--i.e. what we make now is worth 6% less...)

 

bad wording on my part.....

burningman
Apr 22, 11 6:27 pm

The U$ buying power has gone down the toilet thanks to Reagen. In 1972, you could have fully paid for your college education working that $3.50 an hour job during the summers. You'd need to make at least 20x that much now to be able to say the same today.

quizzical
Apr 22, 11 6:40 pm

burningman - I think we can find many more culprits than just R.R.

Rusty!
Apr 22, 11 7:10 pm

Quiz, according to the inflation calculator from DOL your $3.50 is roughly $18.70 in today's money (or just under $40k/y). Neither great nor horrible. 

 

This calculator is based on consumer price index, so it doesn't fully account for cost of education or real estate. And that's the wild card here.

 

This page shows average costs in 1972. Some quick calculations:

 

1972 (2011, based on the calculator)

 

Average income: $11,800.00 ($63,083.99)

Average rent: $165 ($882.11)

Average cost of new house: $27,550.00 ($147,285.07)

 

Do you sense the problem yet?

 

According to wiki Average income in 2006 was $45,113 ($35,102 for women) not even close to that $63k projection. 

 

Average cost of US house is $264,000. Far cry from that $147k.

 

These numbers are based on general US population, but our profession really isn't that much different from that. If anything, we are more susceptible to recessions.

Rusty!
Apr 22, 11 7:18 pm

The only reference I found about cost of tuition in 1972 is from this article. A full year costs $660 in an Oregon college. Let's asume that number is within 100% of what other programs cost back then: Using my calculator $660 works out to be $3,528.

 

Rule of thumb is that cost of tuition had increased by double the national inflation rate dating back all the way to 1958.

metal
Apr 22, 11 8:11 pm

enrique norten makes 200k

jmanganelli
Apr 22, 11 8:27 pm

i'm more inclined to subscribe to the argument from the atlantic monthly statistics that elinor mentions.

 

in the late seventies / early eighties, my parents, with a single middle-to-upper-middle-class income from retail sales, were able to buy a home, buy a nice used boat, afford the boat winter storage and summer mooring fees, buy new furniture for the home, have two, and eventually four kids, take the family on a nice vacation each year, and save for retirement

 

before the crash of 2008, my wife and i were both starting our careers, making low six figures combined, and while we were comfortable, if we tried to have the same lifestyle in our late twenties --- with two professional incomes --- that my parents had from one in retail in the late 70's / early 80's, we would have gone into serious debt

 

my impression, based upon my experience, is that the purchasing power of the dollar has fallen quite far over the last 30 years and we are mostly less well off than the previous few generations

 

 

Justin Ather Maud
Apr 22, 11 8:37 pm

They don't.  End of this story.  Crack pipe, anyone?

elinor
Apr 22, 11 9:32 pm

well, to clarify, this is what the harper's index actually says:

 

chance that a us job was in a low-wage industry: 1 in 2

percentage of voters in the 2010 midterms who were members of a union household: 17

percent change in us labor productivity since 1972: +114

percent change in wages during that same period: -6

percent increase in food stamp usage in 2010: +13

chances that a us millionaire does not 'feel wealthy': 2 in 5

avg. amount he or she believes it would take to create such a feeling: $7,500,000

percentage of white americans who own stocks, bonds, or mutual funds: 49

of black americans: 25

of hispanic americans: 16

 

...and it goes on. (sources are on p82, but you'll have to get a copy if you want to analyze them...)

 

looking at it again, it seems the 'labor' statistics pertain more to blue-collar labor than to professionals.  however, we do fall somewhere between those laborers and the millionaires...most of us are far closer to the laborers... so the general trends do apply...

 

i agree with both rusty! and jmanganelli--my parents were 1st gen. low-level professional immigrants who put me through (moderately-priced) private schools and took me skiing and to europe on vacation every year...and never worked a weekend or a late night.  they are both (divorced) homeowners.  they still give me a check every now and then, and are shocked when they hear we're expected to work weekends 'for free;.  my husband and i (no stocks, bonds, mutual funds...anything) laugh when we try to imagine doing the same in NY for our yet-to-be kids...definitely wouldn't be as easy.....

 

elinor
Apr 22, 11 9:46 pm

ps...despite my unfailing appreciation of my ivy-league education, back in the day i worked my share of menial jobs, including a fairly lengthy stint as a union laborer.  my (healthy?) sense of outrage at current professional labor standards comes from the fact that we (architects) have to take a fair share of shit that would have been considered beyond the pale for even the lowliest member of the UFCW  circa 1990...

 

 

 

elinor
Apr 22, 11 10:20 pm

ftb--that's impossible, unless it's his income from some teaching job!  surely he makes much more than that from his practice....

jbushkey
Apr 22, 11 11:14 pm

Elinor what kind of skills and certifications are required to be "professional immigrants"? :D

 

Just to be clear I am picking on your syntax, my son is a first generation American on Mom's side.

elinor
Apr 22, 11 11:30 pm

hahaha!...(there's always this nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me NOT to post to archinect after happy hour...)  though the citizenship process is not for the faint of heart...

 

 

 

 

 

 

J. James R.J. James R.
Apr 22, 11 11:43 pm

I'm leery of figures before the 1930s due to the odd valuations that took place in currency due to a number of countries pegging their currency to either the dollar or the pound sterling and the long process it took to convert most of the economy to fiat money rather than any metal-standards based currency.

 

If we assume money and the value of money as a flexible standard, a child coal miner in circa-1850s Britain made 90 pence per shift (roughly equivalent to £81 in 2009). This method of course assumes a standard averaged inflation rate of 3.4%. At 6 shifts a week, that's roughly about $800 a week or $41,600.

 

However, Britain was still on a metals standard. And if we were adjust the price of gold  in the 1850s to modern day values, an average weekly salary of £5.40 (£208.8 annually) would be worth 66 oz. of gold annually. That salary would be worth approximately $59,000 ($900 per oz. average during 2008 prices) or $99,528 ($1508 at today's price).

 

So, one of England's most notorious and horrendous jobs would actually be relatively high paying considering that it would be next to impossible for an 8 year-old to earn somewhere between $41,600 to $99,528 a year.

 

Rusty!
Apr 23, 11 12:36 am

That's some truly horrible math there unicor.. err... James.

 

Kids working in 1850's England made whopping 2 or 3 shillings per week (20 shillings in a pound, thus £7.8/year salary). Price of gold remained unchanged from 1700's till 1930's. About $20 an ounce (US) or about £4/oz. 

 

Your kid could afford to buy about two ounces a year. Try crunching your numbers again.

 

But way to derail the thread. Spectacular!

will gallowaywill galloway
Apr 23, 11 1:42 am

lol. 

Herme
Apr 23, 11 3:03 pm

For those who are merely looking at salaries, consider this: the school debt to income ratio of architects compared to other professionals. My guess is that this ratio has outpaced any rise in average salary.

In addition it would be interesting to look at the average increase in salaries over the course of a career. Architecture firms in general tend to be less sophisticated then other professional organizations with regards to career tracks. My guess is that if you did a time value of money calculation of an average architect's income over the course of their career it would be a pretty depressing number as compared to other professional averages.

burningman
Apr 23, 11 5:36 pm

So Rusty,

 

In 1972, then, a 5 year college education is about 25% of your annual income.

 

But now, that education is 400-500% of your annual income.

 

By those numbers, it sounds like you would have to be a lawyer today to live as comfortably as the average joe did back in 1972.

 

If you look at the average rent and home price back then, it's obvious that since the Reagan era,  the middle class's standard of living and purchasing power has gone down the toilet.

quizzical
Apr 23, 11 6:01 pm

I think it's true that the US middle class has experienced serious economic erosion since the beginning of the Reagan years - and that erosion continues today unabated. However, I don't believe that's the sole - or even primary - reason it's so hard to make a decent living as an architect. In my estimation, there simply are too many practitioners (or people aspiring to become practitioners) relative to the demand for our services. It's simply a matter of supply and demand.

Rusty!
Apr 23, 11 7:20 pm

quiz, during the last architectural boom, offices couldn't find enough qualified staff to work on their projects. Right now it's the opposite. So it's all relative I suppose.

 

burningboy, Reagan was just a pretty face behind a much larger movement which really starts in the 50's and gains full momentum by the 80's. By the time this country's run into the ground, Jesus will be back, just as planned. In the meantime, it's all obama's fault.

quizzical
Apr 23, 11 7:49 pm

rusty - you are, of course, correct about the last boom. My earlier comment was focused on a much longer time horizon. Over the course of my career I've experienced the business cycle whipsaw the profession more times than I care to remember. In my view, the economics of the profession won't improve much until the pool of practitioners matches more nearly the number needed during down cycles. This won't happen as long as the barriers to entry are relatively low in the profession.

burningman
Apr 23, 11 8:29 pm

What do you mean since the 1950s...

 

ohh, history lesson...wait for it...wait for it....

CMNDCTRL
Apr 23, 11 10:27 pm

ok...it is impossible to compare salaries between generations. it just is. globalization has had too many effects. 

 

BUT, my father and i both graduated with professional degrees. we both took out loans to do so. the difference was HE got the rest paid for by GI bill (now the GI bill does not even come CLOSE to paying for a degree) and the measly 6k he had to borrow was paid off within a year. the kicker was, he got paid THE EXACT same starting salary as i did. no adjustments for inflation, etc. 25 years passed, salary did not change at all. we have VERY similar professions. if that doesn't say something is wrong, i do not know what does. 

 

i am drinking on a saturday night, sorry if this is too honest or whatever, but if inflation, cost of living index etc. does not mean we should be making MORE, then why don't we?

steadyeddy
Apr 24, 11 11:04 pm

I just got a ride from the contractor for one of my projects to meet with my clients. He drove me to the meeting in his Porshe. If you can't afford some of the nicer things in life, then the next best thing is to associate with people who have money. What else can I say.

Donna SinkDonna Sink
Apr 24, 11 11:46 pm

CMDNCTRL, my story is exactly the same as yours - no adjusting for inflation or CPI or whatever:

 

My starting salary first job out of school (1992): $18,000

My dad's starting salary first job out of school (1963): $18,000 (metallurgist)

 

Rusty!
Apr 24, 11 11:59 pm

Donna, $18k in '92 translates to $28k in today world. That's not enough since 28<32.

 

Wh do you hate money?

xixiblue
Apr 25, 11 1:50 am

Please, our pressing radixes has never risen super - labor cost

 grinder mill  cone crusher

 jaw crusher  impact crusher
sand making machine/VSI crusher

 

 

mdler
Apr 25, 11 1:55 am

obama dont give a fuck either, bitches

won and done williams
Apr 25, 11 9:21 am

In my estimation, there simply are too many practitioners (or people aspiring to become practitioners) relative to the demand for our services.

 

This won't happen as long as the barriers to entry are relatively low in the profession.

 

I'm sorry, quizzical, but these two statements reveal that you have less than zero understanding of what it takes for someone just starting a career in architecture to get to be a licensed professional. It's currently a ten plus year endeavor with all of the hoops that have been created with IDP and the ARE process. The process you went through when first entering the profession is a far cry from what the process is today. (I also find it ironic that the practitioners that are now making the convoluted rules for licensure have fairly little understanding of the actual process they are creating.)

 

And quite honestly, the problems facing the profession have little to do with supply and demand for professionals, but rather the inability for architecture firms to meet the changing demands of clients and the built environment at large. Our profession too often these days pretends that the world is what it was twenty, thirty, fifty years ago. It's not. Far from. The nature and delivery of architectural services has changed radically, and the firms that survive will be quick to recognize those changes and adapt. Blaming the young architects or the schools is simply shifting blame away from a broken business model and symptomatic of how we got yourselves into this mess in the first place.

quizzical
Apr 25, 11 9:59 am

won - you read more into my comment than is there. First of all, I had nothing whatsoever to do with the current IDP and ARE process -- I opposed them when they were being proposed -- I personally think they're overkill and largely unnecessary. Secondly, I do understand the licensure challenges faced by emerging architects -- I see those challenges every day in my firm and am as frustrated by the convolutions as are those struggling to obtain their license.  Thirdly, I'm not blaming anybody - only making an observation, based on a fairly deep understanding of how the structure of an industry impacts the basic economics of that industry. Fourthly, you know nothing of my firm's business model -- for  you to suggest that ours is broken reflects only a poorly informed assumption.

 

You are correct that the industry has changed radically over the past several decades and too few firms have responded to those changes intelligently.

 

I regret that my comments struck a nerve -- for that I am sorry.

traceā„¢
Apr 25, 11 10:21 am

Until there is more reality in schools, there will be kids dreaming of designing the next Guggenheim.  That's fine, and fun, but far from reality.  That, and the 'convoluted' path to licensure will continue to push the most ambitious out of architecture.

 

Less talent (from an entrepreneurial/business side) = less progress

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