The Knowledge Economy: Which PhD Pays The Most?

Which PhD Pays The Most? male student

In today’s world, obtaining a PhD implies taking a road less traveled, which will eventually lead you to become a valuable “human capital” with a high-powered degree in your hands. Exciting times for nerds indeed.

But is that true for all doctorate programmes out there? Or, are they not all created equal?

A 2018 study, published in Higher Education, outlined that “the individual material benefits of holding a science doctorate are clear. High status, well-paid, interesting and autonomous work is promised.”

And the recent demographic data seems to back up this claim. 

Contrary to the widespread myth about employers who regard PhD holders as “over-qualified,” a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly notes that high earnings are proportionally equivalent to the education level. Learn more, earn more – its title concisely instructs. 

Still, another comprehensive statistical report, performed by a team of scientists in 2015, concluded that “the data also permit the statistical analysis of the relation between a researcher’s field of study and subsequent placement and individual earnings.”

In pragmatic terms, it does matter which PhD major you choose. 

What follows is a comparative and ranking analysis of postgraduate fields of study, which will draw heavily from the resources cited above and the authoritative salary insight providers. 

Top 10 PhD Degrees That Pay The Most

Deciding precisely what doctoral degree is the most lucrative is not that easy. Nor that difficult, for that matter. All you need to do is take 3 factors into account – mid-career salary for related occupations, job outlook, and your personal capabilities. 

At the end of the day, the most profitable field of study for you is probably the one you’re best at. 

Having said that, be sure to read our top list as a comprehensive guide that can provide general birds-eye information on fluctuating workforce statistics. 


Before we dive in, you should note a few more things about how we reached our ranking. 

Unless otherwise noted, we’ve gathered the mid-salary data from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. Although this gave us evidence about the state of workflow in the US, it’s safe to say that the conclusions are applicable globally. 

Also, we tried to interpret the obtained data following current studies, reports, and other authoritative sources. 

Do note that we’ve excluded professional doctorate degrees, such as Juris Doctor (J.D.) or Doctor of Medicine (MD).

The following ranking covers PhD degrees (research doctorates) specifically. 

Top 10 PhD That Pay The Most [List]

Which PhD Pays The Most? male and female students working

#10 Statistics and Mathematics

Mid-career salary: $131,000

Because the world relies on data today, statisticians are in high demand, especially those who have computer science, engineering, or biology experience. According to the BLS, mathematicians and statisticians’ overall employment is projected to grow 33% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Different career paths include: Biostatistician (average earnings $149,000), Chief Data Scientist (average earnings $248,000), Lecturer/ Speaker (average earnings $74,000). 

#9 Biomedical Engineering

Mid-career salary: $133,000

Biomedical Engineer is another occupation with high job outlooks – The BLS projects that the employment in the sector will grow up to 5%, faster than the average. Because typical job descriptions include designing and improving medical equipment, the most common workplaces are hospitals, consulting firms, research groups, university settings, and manufacturing companies.

#8 Physics

Mid-career salary: $135,000

Physicists research different interaction modes of matter and energy. Although this can sound abstract, it has broad applicability. This occupation’s demand is expected to increase by 7% from 2019 to 2029 (faster than average). Typical work environments include colleges and universities, the federal government, and scientific research and development services.

#7 Engineering

Mid-career salary: $137,000

A PhD in engineering is a versatile degree because it shows that you have a strong theoretical knowledge relevant across the industries. In essence, all engineers provide solutions to industry-specific problems. That’s why this occupation usually entails subsequent education about particular fields. 

#6 Physical Chemistry

Mid-career salary: $138,000

With their knowledge about physical chemistry, researchers in this field are often the driving force behind entire industries. Of course, physical chemists thus hold on to the most lucrative doctoral degrees.

#5 Pharmacology

Mid-career salary: $141,000

Not to be confused with a PharmD degree, Doctors of Pharmacology employ their theoretical knowledge to research new medicines or perfect the existing ones. Because the pharmaceutical industry is generating a lot of profit, the employability and the job outlook are very high in the field. 

#4 Electrical Engineering

Mid-career salary: $144,000

Since our world is so reliant on various electronic devices, electrical engineers are one of the most sought-after experts. They work for some of the major employers of the world – 

engineering service providers, manufacturers, and the federal government – to name a few. Typical research roles imply all sorts of designing and development of electronic equipment.

#3 Computer Science

Mid-career salary: $145,000

The occupation of a Computer and Information Research Scientists will probably soon make it to number one place in future lists such as this one. The job outlook is 15%, meaning that the need for experts in the field will grow substantially. It doesn’t come as a surprise when we stop and glance at the increasing digitalization across the industries. 

#2 Organic Chemistry

Mid-career salary: $146,000

Since there’s a global shortage of STEM scientists and a genuine need for their expertise, the demand for chemistry-related occupations skyrocketed. A research degree in organic chemistry typically has high entry barriers, demands long hours in the lab, and prepares students for various career paths, such as Professor, Environmental Science Specialist, or Materials Scientist. 

#1 Chemical Engineering 

 Mid-career salary: $146,000

Chemical engineers apply their theoretical knowledge in enhancing and automating the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. In other words, their expertise is an essential part of everything manufactured. Hence they traditionally have plenty of room for sub-specializations and employment opportunities.

Which PhD Pays The Most?table with highest paying graduate degrees

Financial Plan of PhD Studies

It’s not all about the profitability of a particular degree. There are a few more things to keep in mind here. Namely, among other things, postgraduate studies are an important investment, which a financial plan should back up. 

To fully map all the economic ins and outs of your investment, here’s what you need to know. 

How Long Does a PhD Programme Take?

The answer to this question will vary depending on your personal time management and the institution’s curriculum. Approximately, it will take between 6-8 years to complete the majority of PhD programmes. In other words, aside from the time investment, you should have a firm funding strategy to back up your studies.

How do You Pay For a PhD Programme?

The short answer is – in several ways:

  • Finding an already funded project (programmes that include funding)
  • University scholarship – that can range from partial tuition reduction to a full stipend
  • Tuition reimbursement for employees – if you are already working in a learning-friendly environment, chances are your employer can be a potential funding source
  • Student loan – that can be either private or offered by a government
  • Self- funding 

How Much Does a PhD Student Earn?

The answer to this question could yield an entire book, but – generally speaking – a PhD student can earn anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 depending on the academic institution, location, and field of study. 

How Much Does a PhD Increase Your Salary?

There is no single figure as an answer here. If you’re already in academia, the university will probably provide clear salary-related information. But, if you are in the industry sector, earnings can vary significantly. 

Which PhD Pays The Most? frequency distribution of PHD recipients graph

Lucrative PhDs – Other Factors to Consider 

Reading guides like this is an excellent way of obtaining a general picture of your future education. However, when the time comes for a real-life decision, be sure to keep in mind a few more caveats.

Other factors to consider are:

  • Employability and the job outlook

Although we outlined the specific job outlooks in our list, take note that prognosis might vary by region. Workflow climates are often shifting, sometimes in an unpredictable manner (who knew ten years ago, for instance, that immunology would become one of the most demanded occupations due to the corona crisis).

  • Entry-barriers

The dazzling 6-figure annual salaries might sound tempting, but they are so for a reason. Not everyone can enter the field of chemical engineering, for example. On the other side, there are fields of study that allow easy transitions between disciplines, and competition tends to be higher in those fields. Everyone chasing a PhD in human resources, for instance, should know that there are many psychologists that can also break into the industry.

  • Self-assessment 

Finally, considering what you would love to do and could do with quality – is perhaps the most critical variable. After all, you’ll spend a lifetime researching just that.

Final Verdict: Which PhD is The Most Worthy Investment?

In the end, the best doctorate is one that is best fitted to your needs and interests. 

The good news is that e-learning is taking over education globally, and more and more universities are offering accredited online PhD programs – thus significantly cutting the cost of studies. 

To find the right one for you – do what you have to do best – research. 

You can learn more about the program by downloading our prospectus.

Feel free to contact us for any additional questions as we’ll be more than happy to help you.