Academics salaries lower than automobile industry worker salary?

July 14th, 2007 by jose

From Mark J. Perry’s blog, I just learned that the average UAW worker with a high school degree earns 57.6% more compensation than the average university professor with a Ph.D. Considering that there are plenty of academic positions that do not enjoy the average salary mentioned in the blog post, this is something to worry about. Average Postdoc salaries according to the NSF are nowhere closer to this figure, and you have to add the uncertainty of these positions (they are always short-term) and mobility demands (expect to move to a different university sooner or later). And of course, academic work longer hours and suffer a lot more psychological stress than car factory workers.

Where did things go this wrong? Do our markets demand cars, and not knowledge? Is education so unimportant in our current economy? These statistics are borderline insulting, no matter how you try to justify them.


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17 Responses to “Academics salaries lower than automobile industry worker salary?”

  1. Robin BlantonNo Gravatar Says:

    I’ve been enjoying reading your posts for some time and I want to thank you for a great site.

    However, I don’t agree with your thinking here. Why must head work be more valuable than hand work? As someone who’s worked both on a shop floor and in academia, what I find more insulting is the assumption, unfortunately all too common, that academics, who, it can’t be denied, have some of the cushiest jobs ever invented, deserve more money than people who work hard with their bodies at jobs that may require just as much know-how and are likely physically exhausting and unpleasant to boot.

  2. Max LeibmanNo Gravatar Says:

    At the risk of getting both academia and labor furious with me, I would suggest that where things went this wrong is in negotiations–either the UAW has managed to secure compensation out of place with their position in the market, or academics and any unions representing has failed to secure compensation in line with market demands.

    Another possibility to consider is that there are many topics in academia that the public doesn’t want nearly so badly as it wants transportation. I’m quite certain there is a glut of people who want to spend their life studying and teaching about French literature relative to the actual demand for their scholarship (and, frankly, in some such cases, I don’t think the public is wrong). Also, there’s the problem of creating an incentive to do the labor–I’ve met people whose dream job is to be a professor of psychology, or literature, or mathematics; I have never met anybody who even claimed to know somebody whose dream job is to work in a factory for the next forty years.

  3. CAWNo Gravatar Says:

    I’m a Union member with a degree, close to two actually. My marks were good enough to look at a scholarship and I am fairly confident of my academic ability to consider a professional career. What I did not have was working time left to reach my financial goals/obligations.

    What these kinds of stats always leave out is the salary ramp. An autoworker’s wage starts pretty well, and stays there with a very slow ramp. An academics salary starts pretty low but can rise very high depending on publishing, etc. So, while my wage was higher than my professor brother’s for, I think five year, I think he matched me on the seventh year. Now, he is so for ahead of me, I’m quite proud of him. He has easily recovered the money he “lost” below reference line and has accelerated far above. His academic life did not require much movement, nor did my uncle’s. I know others have mobility but, if they are publishing, they move up. My brother and uncle both have tenure which beats any kind of security my Union can negotiate.

    You can think of it as an apprenticeship program. They always have a lower rate as they go through the terms of probation to a skill trade. The difference is that in a Union setting, the wage ceiling is defined. In Academia the sky is the limit.
    So, academically, when we talk about salaries we must define our terms. We really are talking about apples and oranges.

  4. rNo Gravatar Says:

    In addition to the above suggestions, I would add that there’s some play of the “anything you might want to do already you’ll be paid less for” phenomenon. Basically, people pay whatever they have to to get enough good enough people to do the job they want done. In this case, it turns out that’s a mid-range not high-range salary – in part because there are enough people who “love” their work that they’re willing to do it for less than they might require to be convinced to do, um, banking instead.

    This takes a bit of a hit on academicians, but it’s nothing like what happens in some fields – eg, painting, or social work. A postdoc salary may be low, but it can be higher than a mid-level social worker salary already. And in my experience, even more social workers and painters will tell you that they do their work because they have to than will academicians.

    I’d also note that there’s more flexibility in all of these “lower” wage jobs than in a factory job – and again, people are willing to pay a premium (take a cut in salary) in order to have such flexibility – which is also totally rational.

  5. ABNo Gravatar Says:

    Hmm…My first reaction is that the 93k for a full professor – assistant
    professor salaries are 30-40k below that. Secondly, unless one is a
    field like genetics, or at a private university, there is little ramp as
    suggested by CAW. For example, unless I get a competing offer from
    another university, I can expect an annual increase of 3% or so, plus
    increases of 4-5k when/if one gets promoted to associate and then
    full professor. Once one has reached full professor, there are no more
    promotions (unless one moves into university administration) and
    so ones salary does not increase by leaps and bounds.

    I would dearly love to know what university CAWs brother is at, and
    what field he is in. As an assistant professor in the sciences, my salary is significantly below any of those list above – if I were in
    humanities, it would be lower still. I work at a good research level 1
    university. Fortunately, the cost of living here is low, so I can do

    I have also never of a university giving pay raises based on the number
    of publications one gets. If you have a good year, get a grant and
    get several papers out, your annual increase may be 4% instead of 3%,
    but it does not increase by leaps and bounds.

  6. tempNo Gravatar Says:

    Thanks AB, that’s a great added detail to the stats. If the incentives for publising are just 1%, then it’s almost like punishing people with a good track record. There are papers in the decision making literature that show that giving low incentives, or too small punishments, work the other way around!

    I wouldn’t be surprised finding that people under Unis with the 1% incentive end up publising less.

  7. CoreyNo Gravatar Says:

    Wow. It goes to show what training in a good trade will get you. Sometimes speending all that time in school is not as lucrative as you think.

  8. SocratesNo Gravatar Says:

    It’s not WRONG that UAW workers get more than academics, It’s facts. A graduate will only think about him or herself and will negotiate on an individual basis. He or she will work harder or cheaper than their peers to gain a competitive edge. A UAW worker stands together with other UAW workers and negotiates as a united front. You think that’s unfair? Don’t blame the UAW for being better negotiators

  9. career adviceNo Gravatar Says:

    Interesting figures. I wonder if they still hold up a year later, or if the gap has widened?

  10. incentive scriptNo Gravatar Says:

    if they are lowered, then where is the value of academics gone?

  11. DougNo Gravatar Says:

    Wow, you give a union in this day enough rope it will hang itself. The problem with the pay is the market cannot afford to pay it. Couple that with the Big Three’s refusal to make quality vehicles for years and you have a giant castrophe. The UAW has gotten greedy and you people cannot even see that unions are what is driving industry out of the north and into the south. That IS WHY foreign companies are no longer builing up north… and I do work for an Engineering / Procurement / Construction company so I am not pulling this information out of thin air. Also, as a southerner, I say stay greedy. You will only drive your area further into economic despair, helping rejunvenate the south.

  12. MICHAELNo Gravatar Says:

    I just graduated from University of California, and i am only getting paid eleven dollars an hour. I am outraged about the $40 an hour for the UAW worker. I will not send my children to school. It is better for them to become an UAW worker. An UAW worker’s benefit alone beats my wage on itself hands down. I feel bad for going to school, i should have become an UAW worker.

  13. factory professorNo Gravatar Says:

    This site came up when I searched for info about UAW pay. I’ve been told by a couple people that the average salary has been stated as over $75/hr, and I was wondering if that was correect. It must include all benefits and …???? There must be something else…

    I worked in manufacturing (not automotive) on the shop floor for about 25 years (at various levels) before continuing my education further and accepting a position in a community college. I lost over $10K/year to take it, but I like the flexibility and needed a change. I have been there 10 years now and recently made Associate professor. (I put a lot of extra work into my job and apparently my real world experience was valued – that is a quick promotion rate from instructor to assistant to Assoc in 10 yrs). Publishing means virtually nothing hear; we are not a research college. I have one promtion left, and can hope to get it in another 5 years or so. The raise will be another $2,500 or so. The sky is surely not the limit.

    $75/hr translates to over $150K per year. I don’t know anyone in industry making much more than 1/2 that (including overtime) doing “blue collar” work, and I don’t mean just assemblers, but highly skilled, well trained craftsmen who have served 4 year apprenticeships, often have an associate degree, and years of experience.

    Sure I’m jealous. People I train today can end up making more than me in a few years, but three times my salary? That’s not good negotiation. That’s crazy. UAW should agree to give back a lot if they want the companies to make it, just as CEO’s should. No company, no job.

  14. CheNo Gravatar Says:

    Finally! We’re starting to see the hypocrisy of the modern American union! Why bother going to college and trying to grow your brain when the average trailer monkey is getting a six figure salary? Or the ability to drop a wrench on his foot and spend the rest of his life on “disability” payments and not have to work another day? This is the trash that was given more money than they know what to do with, access to the stock market via eTrade accounts, McMansions, etc. Time for an Educated Workers Revolution…a White Collar Rebellion.

    Throw all the Detroit bums out on their asses, from the criminal CEOs to the overpaid laborers. Sure, put a million guys out and let them eat a little humble pie for a couple of years. We’ll all have to tighten, but the smarter ones among us will truly survive. And those who don’t, because they are both spoiled AND uneducated? They can flip burgers or cut lawns…take back the jobs they were meant for, the ones that they thought they were too good for.

    Put unions in Walmart to save lives and get them out of the industries where they’ve overstayed their welcome. Down with the Rich Underclass!

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  16. Mr.AngryNo Gravatar Says:

    I agree, they are somewhat insulting considering that there is a lot more work, money and time involved with earing a PHD

  17. JoeNo Gravatar Says:

    The average auto worker makes $52K a year in salary. The numbers you cited are bogus.

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