Although Isaac Newton was called a natural philosopher in his day, he was actually one of the first theoretical physicists, responsible for the theory of gravity and the invention of calculus in the course of his studies. Nomenclature aside, theoretical physicists use mathematics to describe certain aspects of nature, according to the Official String Theory website. Salaries for physicists vary according to work setting or industry and location.
Basic Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't have a separate category for theoretical physicists. Instead it groups all physicists into a single job category. Physicists earned an average annual salary of $117,040 in 2013, according to the BLS. Salaries ranged from $55,150 or less for the lowest 10 percent of earners to $181,840 or more for the highest 10 percent. Most physicists worked in scientific research and development services, where the average salary was $117,880. Physicists who worked for the federal government averaged $113,350. Those who worked for colleges, universities and professional schools took home considerably less, with an average annual salary of $82,390. Some physicists worked in management, scientific and consulting services, where they averaged $142,590 a year.
The States Have It
Some states don’t offer employment for physicists, or did not report data to the BLS regarding salaries in 2013. Of those that did report, Kentucky physicists had the lowest average salary, at $80,010 a year. Oregon physicists did considerably better, with an average yearly salary of $146,510. Hawaii was close to that figure at $146,560. Physicists in Minnesota averaged $153,890 while those in Louisiana averaged $161,120. The top-paying state in the U.S was Florida, where physicists averaged $171,160 a year in 2013.
Within a state, salaries can vary significantly. For example, salaries for physicists in the Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall area of Florida averaged $162,730 in 2013, according to the BLS. In Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, however, the average salary was $212,130. In California, physicists in the San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos area averaged $89,160. In the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City area, physicists averaged $116,730, while those in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara took home $126,390. In New York, salaries in Buffalo-Niagara Falls averaged $145,000 a year, while those in Albany-Schenectady-Troy averaged $152,940.
A Look at the Future
Although some physicists become teachers, the BLS reports that most spend their time in research. Like Newton, they might study gravity, or focus on the study of atoms. A doctorate is typically required to become a physicist, especially for independent research. The BLS expects employment of physicists and astronomers to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is slightly below the average for all occupations. Federal funding is the major driver of research funds in this field, and can be expected to affect job opportunities.
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