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Theoretical physicist's salary

Theoretical physicists use mathematics to investigate the forces and laws of nature at work in the universe. They are concerned with concepts such as the nature of time and the origins of the cosmos, from the infinitude of space to infinitesimal subatomic particles.

They differ from applied physicists in that they conduct studies to further scientific understanding rather than for practical applications, such as the development of computers or spacecraft. Salary levels for the profession vary depending on elements such as employment type and geography.

Average Salary

During its May 2009 employment survey of the country, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average yearly salary for a physicist -- theoretical or applied -- was £72,312.

Calculated from wage data supplied by 13,630 individual scientists, this is equivalent to a monthly income of £6,026 and an hourly rate averaging £34.7. Top earners, those in the highest 10 per cent, were likely to earn in excess of £107,737, while colleagues in the lowest-earning 10 per cent received an average of less than £36,536.

Salary by Industry

The BLS reported that there are three primary sectors of the industry in which physicists work: scientific research and development services, federal government agencies, and academia -- colleges, universities and professional schools. It listed the average salaries within these sectors as £75,322, £73,112 and £53,813, respectively.

Salary by Geography

Wage analysis website found wide variations in average salaries for theoretical physicists in its survey of several large U.S. cities.

It reported that wages were highest in Miami, Houston and Chicago -- £81,627, £61,522 and £59,633, respectively -- while Charlotte was listed at £45,377 and Phoenix at just £31,853.

The BLS listed Kentucky, Florida and Indiana as the states in which, across all industry sectors, physicists are likely to secure the best pay rates -- £90,876, £88,647 and 4136,200, respectively. In contrast, Virginia was listed at £71,253.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment market for physicists, and their close colleagues astronomers, will grow by around 16 per cent over the decade from 2008 to 2018. This is a faster growth rate than that posited for the country as a whole, expected to be between 7 and 13 per cent over the same period. Increases in federal funding for the physical sciences and the need to replace the large number of physicists expected to retire in the near future will be the primary motivations for this growth and should see salary levels for the occupation remain very competitive.