I hear that astronomers don't make a lot of money. What is the salary like?
According to the American Institute of Physics the average salary for a Physics PhD. was about $78,000 in 2000. A post-doc right out of graduate school is about $36,000 a year in physics. Salaries for astronomers are comparable.
2005 Update by Karen. In 2004, the equivalent numbers were a typical salary of $60,000-$100,000 for a Physics PhD, and typical salary $35,000-$42,000 for a post-doc right out of graduate school. You can find these numbers yourself on the AIP statistics website, where they should be updated once a year.
2015 Update by Ann. As Karen noted, the American Institute of Physics posts comprehensive data on salaries for physics-related careers. Using data from graduates in 2010, 2011, and 2012, they found that a person with an undergraduate (bachelor's) degree in astronomy would typically earn between about $28,000 and $58,000 as a starting salary; many of these graduates, though, are likely working in fields outside of astronomy. For post-docs right out of graduate school, astronomy PhDs typically make between $45,00 and $68,000. As you can see, that's a bit of an increase from when Karen checked the data in 2005.
In other words, if your plan is to become a rich astronomer, you should probably reconsider. If you're a smart person, you can make a lot more money in another career that is just as challenging and interesting as astronomy. The only reason to do astronomy is because you're totally in love with it. If you aren't, you'll be miserable . . . and you won't have a lot of money to console yourself.
Page last updated on June 19, 2015.