The Good Oil
We often get questions about the standing of the profession. These emails express a concern that architects' incomes have been falling for several decades. They also worry about a general decline in respect and authority for the architect.
Are our correspondents right? Are architects being disrespected? How much do architects earn? On this page we present some economic and demographic data for the American profession. As far as we know, this is the first time that such historical data has been obtained, analysed and presented. You're looking at a world first!
The reality, alas, is difficult to find. We here at Archsoc.com have been investigating the economic and sociological standing of the profession for more than 25 years. It's all a mess, really. As you can see below, different sources give quite different results.
Note This page is a work in progress. Updates are posted annually, as US statistics become available. The data here is the latest available in Q1 2012.
We are happy for any reader to point us to better sources, but so far we are using these:
That depends who you ask. The chart below shows data from three sources. In theory, NCARB's should be the best indicator, but we wouldn't trust them to run a chook raffle. And there are many people who do the work of architects, who have the right qualifications, but who are not registered. The best we can say is that there are 80,000 to 110,000 architects in the United States.
We suspect that much of the feeling of malaise in the occupation arises not from economic realities, but from social ones. Quite simply: many years ago, there were very few architects in the USA, and they were very special people. Nowadays you can find any number of architects busking in subways. Not so special!
Here's what we mean. Take a look at the chart below, which shows the number of architects in the United States in terms of architects per million Americans. In 1850, 17 Americans in every million were architects: rare birds indeed. In 1850 an American architect would travel in a fine carriage to his rich client's abode, while most Americans walked to work.
Through 1910–1960 the proportion increased: this is the period during which the American professions as we know them today were created. Then a plateau so that in 1960, 166 Americans in every million were architects. But take a look at what happens in the decades after 1960: by 2010 almost 700 in every million were architects.
By 2010, there were as many architects in the USA as there were ushers, lobby attendants or drywall installers (source: OES). And now the architects—and the ushers, lobby attendants, and the drywall installers— all drive to work. If architects had maintained the same rarity as they had in 1850, today they would be as uncommon as professional mathematicians or commercial divers (that's divers, not drivers).
It may be that the feeling of malaise in the occupation has little to do with economics, and more to do with the sociological bloating of the occupation.
Most economic data about architects (salaries, wages, compensation, etc) only looks at employees. That's fine as far as it goes, but architecture has traditionally been an occupation of the self-employed. According to the BLS screed on architects, one in five architects are (is?) self-employed, about three times the rate for other professionals. This huge segment does not show up in any of the data sources we here at Archsoc.comhave available.
Some of our sources use ‘medians’, and some ‘means’. Both are often referred to as ‘average’. You really should look up the difference. We prefer the median. Our sources also use different time periods: hourly, weekly, or annual earnings. Why does this matter? Architects may earn a high hourly rate, but if a typical contracting architect only works nine months a year, their annual earnings may be the same as someone on a lower hourly rate who works twelve.
So we cautiously present our results for architectural employees. To eliminate the effects of inflation, we present our data as ratios to the incomes from other occupations.
The NCS charts the mean hourly earnings of wage and salary workers in the USA.
The OES lists the median annual wage for a very detailed breakdown of American occupations. We provide a few occupations here.
The CPS provides data back to 1995. The CPS lists median weekly earnings. Example: In 1995, the median weekly earnings of an American professional was 99% that of an architectural worker. By 2011 this had fallen to 78%. That is, architects were better off compared to other professionals in 2011 than they were in 1995.
We have been studying this data since 1967. Good heavens! We hope to present a full analysis by last quarter of 2013.