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First Annual CE News Engineering Salary Survey

You asked for it and here it is: The first annual CE News Salary Survey! We randomly sent a questionnaire to 3,000 of our subscribers and the results provided were tallied from over 550 responses.

By Lissa A.H. Poirot

You asked for it and here it is: The first annual CE News Salary Survey! We randomly sent a questionnaire to 3,000 of our subscribers and the results provided were tallied from over 550 responses. On our end, we were surprised by some incomes reported. Obviously, everyone in the civil engineering industry has their own ideas about what an engineer should be making, so you can imagine our shock at discovering a reader whose 1998 total earnings—including salary and bonuses—was $500,000!

The CE News 1998 Salary Survey questionnaire requested data on annual salary, bonuses, raises, education, registration, experience, position, and number of employees in a firm. We hope the following information will help our readers better negotiate or understand their salaries.


Cutting straight to the chase, the CE News Salary Survey revealed that the median salary for civil engineers in 1998 was $63,500. The lowest salary on the scale registered at $25,000, while the highest was $240,000. Three-quarters of those surveyed receive a median salary of $78,500. And while more than half of our respondents received the median salary or higher, we found that 55 percent of those surveyed didn't feel they were making the median salary.

Percentage of those surveyed who do not feel they are making the median salary

"I feel the profession as a whole is under-paid," said one respondent who earned $67,600 in 1998. Another respondent who took home $48,000 replied, "I feel that the civil engineering profession is greatly misunderstood and undercompensated."

"I think I'm making the median but it's too low for the education and effort," said a respondent with a Master's degree who earned $89,000. "Consulting engineers' services are one of the USA's remaining bargains."

1998 Median Salary: Private vs. Public

So what do engineers feel they should be making? The answers fluctuated greatly. Most readers said that median salaries should fall between $75,000 to $100,000 annually. Others felt salaries ranging between $150,000 to $200,000 were appropriate. One reader felt a $1 million salary was suitable. And a handful of respondents were satisfied with their salaries and just wanted to continue at their current levels. Many told us that although their salaries were not very high, they live in areas with a better quality of life that makes up for what some may look at as a loss in income.

"My low salary is the consequence of working on the ideal job in the lowest paid state—Montana—with a great quality of life," replied one reader with a Ph.D. who earned $48,600 in 1998.

Others recognize that they make more than their peers because they live in urban areas with a higher cost of living. Said one respondent who earned $99,000 in 1998: "I am located in San Francisco."

Some feel betrayed by a system that doesn't provide the salaries that others in specialized fields, such as medicine or law, are earning. "I think the legacy of the C.E. profession is that we try to be jack of all trades. Like medical doctors, specialized people should do the job and it has to come from licensing," said a public engineer who earned $62,000 last year.

Respondents also expressed concern over the growing number of unlicensed engineers and its effects on salaries. "The state has non-engineers performing engineering-related work at lower pay grades the unions allow this," replied an engineer who earned $45,323.

A number of subscribers expressed their concerns over the billing process. Many feel that owners and principals are competing in a way that hinder the employees' salaries. While competition drives prices down, engineers are the ones who perform the work at full cost but take cuts in salaries to keep the project costs down.

"The problem with civil engineers is that most of their projects today are obtained by being the lowest bidder. We are no longer professionals, but contractors," said an engineer who earned $45,000. "Very few projects are awarded for technical merit, cost is the controlling factor. Reputation has been replaced by costs."

An engineer who earned $60,000 echoed those remarks, "Today's project's are done backwards. The project is awarded to the contractor/vendor as turnkey, and they sub out the engineer. The contractor/vendor then controls the engineering and the engineering budget for the project. The cart is in front of the horse."

One solution offered is to not let contract battle costs get outlandishly low. "Engineering and surveying professionals should not undercut each other's prices to get more jobs but charge enough for doing great jobs," said one engineer who took in a total $80,000 in salary and bonuses in 1998.


In constant debate is whether it is the private or the public engineer that makes more money. While the public engineer typically believes the private sector earns a higher salary, they are aware that they typically receive more benefits and have greater job security.

Sixty-seven percent of our readers polled were working in the public sector in 1998. Here the median salary was lower than total median at $59,900. Although the lowest public engineering salary was not the lowest on the survey, salaries in the public sector did not get as high as the private arena. Only three public respondents earned six figures in 1998, with the highest salary at $123,000.

1998 Median Salary: Private vs. Public

"My per-year income doesn't look so good but per hour I do very well," said a public engineer who earned $65,695 in 1998. "I average less than 45 hours per week, unlike mid-level engineers in the private sector who generally work more hours for their pay. For me this is good."

The remaining 33 percent of those polled worked in the private sector. Here the salaries fluctuated due to education, experience, firm size, etc. "Salaries seem to differ greatly for a given position and firm based upon technical skills and firms' overhead costs," said a private engineer who earned over $100,000 in salary and bonuses.

The median salary for an engineer in the private arena was $66,000—higher than the overall median. The lowest salary registered at $25,000 and the highest was our mystery engineer at $240,000.

Again, many engineers did not feel they were earning the median salary. Thirty-six percent of those in the private sector and 41 percent in the public arena felt they weren't making the median salary in 1998.


Overall, bonuses covered a large scale. Respondents reported bonuses that fell as low as $150 while others reported bonuses of six figures—one respondent even received $400,000! Overall, the median bonus for 1998 was $6,250.

Including bonuses in total 1998 earnings, median incomes for civil engineers were $67,600. The lowest income in 1998 was $25,000, while the highest paid engineer received $500,000. Fifty-two percent of the total surveyed earned the total median salary or higher when including bonuses.

Unfortunately, less than half of our respondents received bonuses in 1998, but on a more positive note, 72 percent of our readers polled received a raise in 1998.

Bonuses vs. Raises

While we did not section our survey by female or male engineers, one respondent was quick to point out that the women's salaries, based on education, registration, and experience, did not match those of the male counterparts. "In my experience, women tend to get less of a pay raise than men when they pass their P.E. exams," said one female engineer who did not receive a raise in 1998. "In salary, they are paid less for the same job."


Education, as most would expect, made a difference in salary. CE News respondents with a Master's degree or Ph.D. earned a higher median salary than those with only a Bachelor's degree. The median salary for an engineer with a B.S. was lower than the total median at $60,200 while both the median salaries for those with an M.S. and Ph.D. were higher than the total at $69,400 and $75,500, respectively.

1998 Median Salary by Degree

While a person with a Bachelor's degree could, and many times did, earn a higher salary than those with a Master's or Ph.D., that person typically had more years of experience than the person with a higher degree of education. But those in the public sector don't necessarily feel that a higher degree will bring about a higher salary. Said one respondent, "The government is pretty much "scripted." You can get as smart as you want they're not going to pay more."

Sixty-six percent of our respondents had earned only a Bachelor's degree, 31 percent held a Master's, and three percent a Ph.D.


With experience comes rewards and the same is true for engineers. The Engineering Workforce Commission's report on industry trends showed engineer's salaries increased an average of $10,000 with five additional years of experience. An engineer with a B.S. working one to five years earned between $34,000 to $45,000; those with five to 10 years experience earned $45,000 to $54,000; others with 11 to 15 years earned $55,000 to $64,000; engineers with 16 to 20 years earned $64,500 to $70,000; and those with over 21 years typically reached $83,000.

Median Salary by Years of Experience

The CE News salary survey seemed to mimic those trends. Our readers with the highest salaries had been in the business for more than 16 years. Engineers with 16 to 20 years under their belts earned a median salary of $67,800. Those with 21 years or more of experience had a median salary of $72,900. Over 60 percent of our respondents had more than 16 years of experience—46 percent were engineers with more than 21 years! (Our mystery engineer taking home a $240,000 salary has more than 21 years of experience.)

The median salary for new engineers with six to 10 years experience was $50,000 while those with 11 to 15 years jumped to $61,250.

For those engineers with zero to five years experience, the median salary was $40,000. Less than 10 percent of our respondents were engineers-in-training (E.I.T.s) and, as assumed, with registration comes a higher salary. "Professional registration definitely helped bring my salary to a more desirable level," said one new registered engineer whose salary was $45,000 and who received a $9,000 raise with registration.

Median Salary by Registration

According to the University of Florida's Civil Engineering Department, a recent civil engineer with a Bachelor's degree can expect to make $27,000 to $31,000. Those with a Master's can make between $32,000 to $36,000. An engineer with a Ph.D. can expect $45,000 to $50,000.

Our E.I.T.s earned a median salary of $40,350 in 1998 with the lowest salary at $28,600 and the highest at $75,000.


Again, with experience comes rewards and in this case, the more experience you have the higher you go on the company ladder—and the higher you go, the higher the paycheck. As most of our respondents had been in the business for over 16 years, it wasn't a surprise to find most—35 percent—were owners and principals of their firms.

Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed were Project Managers/ Engineers. For new engineers serving as staff and design engineers, the median salary was $47,000. Surprisingly, salaries did get high for some staff/design engineers. While the average was below $50,000, a few engineers reported incomes over $70,000 with the highest salary at $95,000. Project managers and project engineers climbed to a median salary of $61,000. While the low was $28,600, a handful of project managers reached six figures. Department heads, branch managers, and directors didn't jump as high as those moving up to project management but the median salary still showed an increase at $67,500.

1998 Median Salary by Position

Owners and principals of firms experienced the greatest fluctuations. While the median salary was $75,000, both our highest and lowest salaries of 1998 were found here at $240,000 and $25,000 respectively. The reason? Many owners were new and not yet pulling in the profits to take them over the six figure mark.

"I have just started my own business so my salary is on the low side," said an owner with a $40,000 salary and a $9,600 bonus. "I own my own firm and am building a business," said another owner who made $41,000 in salary in 1998. "I feel my salary will go up as I grow."

Added another engineer who earned a salary of $47,400, "I own a small business and traded my salary for a lifestyle in a small community." A small portion of our respondents were semi-retired consultants—those working for themselves and providing services as needed. Here the annual salaries were very good for part-time work. One semi-retired, self-employed respondent earned $86,000 in 1998. A typical 14-hour work week for another respondent resulted in a $45,450 salary.

But another reader, over 70, enjoys his work so much he still works at a firm with more than 125 employees as a project manager earning $61,000 in 1998. "Work is interesting and easy, and the pay is good," he said.


The number of employees at one's firm played a large role in differing salaries. As a firm's employee size increased, so did the median salary, except in the case of those firm's over 125 employees, where median salaries dropped below those of company's with 76 to 125 people.

Average Number of Employees in a Firm

For small companies of 1 to 10 employees, the median salary for an engineer was $60,000 in 1998. For firms with 11 to 40 employees there was a slight salary median growth at $61,500. The average number of employees at a firm for our respondents was 41 to 75. At these firms the median salary reached $63,800. Between 76 and 125 employees, engineers were earning a median salary of $68,000. Firms with more than 125 employees dipped back down to a median salary of $65,900.

Both our lowest and highest paid engineers for 1998 worked in a firm with 1 to 10 employees. These small firms had the biggest salary ranges, with firms with more than 125 employees also fluctuating greatly.

Median Salary by Firm Size

CE News readers appear to lead industry trends in annual salaries, but the debate continues: Is it enough for the amount of education, training, and work that accompanies such a specialized field? Although most of our readers surveyed earned the median salary or higher in 1998, more than half of the subscribers polled didn't feel it was enough.

Our survey revealed those earning the most in 1998 had higher degrees, more experience, and worked as owners and principals of small firms or in firms with 76 to 125 employees. But is it really a matter of more education, a different firm, or being the boss? Or is it the industry in general that keeps the salaries so low? Do engineers lack the recognition and respect to earn as much as other specialists? Or could it be the competition amongst engineering firms willing to sacrifice pay to obtain and keep clients? The debate will continue.

Lissa A.H. Poirot is the editor of of both the print and web version of CENews. She can be reached at

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