Chemical engineers in the United States are pulling a median salary of $120,000, a 9 percent hike since 2011, according to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. And unemployment in the field has dropped to 2.1 percent, from 3.8 percent in 2011.
Chemical engineers in the Houston/Galveston area are especially well paid, with a median salary of $144,200. The median salary for chemical engineers for the state as a whole is $140,000, according to the survey.
The American Institute of Chemical Engineers has released the latest edition of its biennial salary survey, which shows the employment environment has improved considerably for chemical engineers in the past couple of years.
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In the group’s last survey, conducted in 2011, raises for chemical engineers had declined to their lowest point in two decades.
Since then, the U.S. shale boom has released an abundance of natural gas on the market, providing a low-cost feedstock for the chemical industry. That has led to the rapid expansion of chemical plants and a surge in hiring in the chemicals business, particularly on the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast.
Chemical engineers’ median salary has more than doubled since the first time the survey was conducted in 1992, when the median was just $59,700, according to the salary survey. Those working in the petroleum industry are the highest paid. Chemical engineers in the petroleum production and refining business pull a median salary of $150,000. Those in petrochemicals have a median of $140,000.
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As the employment environment has improved, however, salary differences between the genders have persisted, the survey found. While there’s little disparity between salaries of women ($77,700) and men ($77,000) early in their careers, the pay gap in chemical engineering widens considerably as professionals gain experience.
After 10 years in the business, women at almost all ages and experience levels made less than their male counterparts. By the time they reach 36 years of experience, men’s median salary is $140,000 and women’s is $103,333, according to the chemical engineers’ institute.
The organization attributed the pay gap to family leave. For both men and women, taking six months to a year off of work was associated with an average salary cut of about $14,000, the group’s survey found.
“Most of the male respondents who took time off were out for three months or less, while female respondents were most likely to take off four to six months,” wrote Cynthia Mascone in a summary of the survey results in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ magazine.
The survey also showed that in general, engineers whose salaries fall behind because of family leave never catch up.
“We read this as good news, though, for women pursuing a career in chemical engineering,” said American Institute of Chemical Engineers Executive Director June Wispelwey in a written statement. “It’s been five decades since the passage of the Equal Pay Act, and some industries still demonstrate pay inequity between men and women. This salary survey shows that chemical engineering is a fantastic career that compensates both women and men fairly.”
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