I analyzed the PMI Salary Survey results. The eighth edition was released in 2013. I wanted to analyze the change in PM salaries over time. I have surveys from 2000, 2009, 2011 and 2013. I wish I had surveys from other years but the internet has failed me (PMI, too) and I can’t find them.
At first, I looked at the median salary for all PMs in the U.S. over time.
That makes sense – salaries have gone up. But median salary is too broad. Next, I looked at median salary by years of project management experience. The Survey says this is a bigger factor on salary than years of overall experience.
Again, salaries have increased over the last 13 years.
Or have they?
As the chart title says, this is not adjusted for inflation. Even though inflation has been low, averaging less than 2.5% over the last 13 years, it still adds up. Here is the data adjusted for inflation (showing salaries in 2013 dollars).
Yikes! It shows that salaries have decreased over time, or, at best, remained flat! How is this possible?
I have two theories. First, perhaps salaries from 2000 are artificially high due to the dot-com craze. PMI just happened to survey PMs when they were receiving outlandish salaries. Second, perhaps the job title of PM has been adopted by many more people that are dragging the salaries down.
PM Salaries in 2000 Were Boosted by the Dot-Com Craze
While this phenomenon was true – I got a ridiculous salary offer in 2000 – I don’t think it was wide-spread and it didn’t last long. PMI surveys PMs across the U.S. – I doubt salaries increased much in Dubuque due to the dot-com craze. I don’t think there would be a large spike in salaries.
Plus, salaries tend to be sticky. Once you get a raise, you tend to keep it even if your company does worse in the future. If salaries really did go up significantly, I’d expect to see that impact for….ever. Again, that was true in my case. I got a large salary in 2000 and I continued to make more money after that with every subsequent job.
Conversely, maybe the salaries of 2009, 2011 and 2013 are artificially low due to economic issues.
Waiter, Actor, Project Manager
There’s a joke in Hollywood that every waiter or waitress is an actor. Perhaps the same thing is happening to PMs. Maybe the definition of PM expanded so much in the 2000s that there are many, many more types of PMs. The 2000 survey may have been weighted towards technical PMs – computer science, IT, aerospace and Defense, construction. Technical PMs in these industries make more money than other types of PMs. The later surveys may have included more PMs that managed marketing or investor relations projects. Or perhaps, these PMs are more accurately called business analysts. And, maybe, these types of PMs earn less.
The New Normal?
Or maybe, PM salaries have truly gone down. The U.S. Census Bureau shows that median household income went down about 2% between 2000 and 2010. My favorite economics blogger, Tyler Cowen, has written on The Great Stagnation. We PMs are not immune.