Financial and mental wellbeing are linked as many chemists feel the effects of the cost-of-living crisis
The results of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 2023 Pay and Reward survey suggest that a significant proportion of chemists are struggling with rising costs of living. More than a third of respondents are in a worse financial situation than they were one year ago, and half have made financial adjustments such as reducing non-essential spending or using credit cards or overdrafts to pay bills.
For the first time in its 104-year history , this year’s survey also asked questions about the wellbeing of participants. Nearly a third of those who are worse off financially than 12 months ago said their mental wellbeing is negative overall.
The survey received responses from over 4800 RSC members based primarily in the UK. The median salary of respondents in full-time employment is £51,293. While this is a 3.6% more than the last Pay and Reward survey in 2021, over the same period inflation in the UK was around 18%.
The median salary for part-time employees has increased 22% since 2021, to £34,166. However, this may still not represent an above-inflationary increase as the survey only defines part-time work as less than 35 hours per week; it does not reveal whether the average number of hours worked by respondents has changed between the two surveys.
Just 18% of survey participants reported that they received a pay rise in the last year that matched or surpassed inflation, with 62% receiving a below-inflationary increase. In addition, 23% received a one-off payment from their employer (in comparison with 8% of respondents in 2021); the median value of this payment was £1000.
Conditions vary across job sectors. The lowest salaries are found for respondents working in education, at research institutes or for not-for-profit organisations, which each have salary medians of £40,000 (this includes full-time and part-time workers). These were also the groups most likely to have adjusted their spending habits in response to the cost-of-living crisis. In addition, around one third of people working in education or for an academic institution report that their overall wellbeing is poor, in comparison with 25% of all employed respondents.
At the other end of the scale, respondents who work in consulting report the highest median salary (£58,000), with 90% saying that their general wellbeing is positive.
The Chemists’ Community Fund exists to support RSC members and their families during challenging times, offering support and guidance to members and also financial assistance in some cases of financial hardship. Find out more at rsc.li/chemists-community-fund or email email@example.com
From student to retiree
Stark differences in wellbeing are seen at opposite ends of the career scale, with 33% of research students saying their wellbeing is negative overall. However, 77% are optimistic about their future career prospects – the highest level of optimism for any career stage.
By comparison, retirement appears to be something to look forward to, with around 90% of semi-retired and retired respondents reporting positive wellbeing. They were also the groups least likely to report having made any financial adjustments in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis: 68% of retired and 73% of semi-retired respondents have not changed their spending habits.
Most retirees (83%) are supported by an occupational pension (of a median value of £31,367), and 75% also receive a state pension (median value £10,000). Those who receive both meet the criteria for a comfortable income for a single person, according to the retirement living standards for the UK, a benchmark developed by researchers at Loughborough University. The definition of comfortable includes having enough money for luxuries such as spending three weeks on holiday in Europe every year, and replacing their car every five years.
Share your story
How have the cost-of-living crisis and working conditions affected your wellbeing? Whether your experiences match with those reported in the survey results or not, we’d like to hear from you. To share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Wellbeing in chemistry’
Pension contributions above the statutory minimum (which is 8% of your income in the UK, of which 3% must be contributed by your employer) are the most popular benefit offered by employers, with 64% of respondents saying this is available to them. Since the last survey in 2021, there has been an increase in private medical insurance as a benefit, which is now on offer to 45% respondents, compared with just 37% in 2021. The report suggests this may be linked to a wider societal uptake of private healthcare in the UK due to lengthy NHS waiting times.
Flexible working hours are available to 64% of survey respondents, with 58% able to partake in hybrid working, and 50% able to work fully remotely. Respondents who say they enjoy positive wellbeing are more likely to have flexible working options available to them (53%), than those who report negative wellbeing (43%).
Feelings and identity
When asked to choose the words that best describe how they feel about day-to-day life, responses were mixed. While 49% picked ‘tired’ and 33% said ‘stressed’, 41% of respondents said they feel ‘positive’ and 30% are ‘happy’.
Work was not the only factor that affected chemists’ emotional state and wellbeing. People with caring responsibilities were more likely to say they felt stressed, and less likely to say they felt positive or happy, than those without caring responsibilities. Women were more likely than men to report feeling tired, and respondents who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to be stressed or anxious than cisgender heterosexual respondents; individuals from minoritised racial backgrounds were also significantly more likely to say they feel anxious than white respondents.
Disabled respondents were the least likely demographic group to say their wellbeing is positive, with only 65% agreeing. This may be linked to accessibility issues across the chemical sciences, as recently reported when the RSC released its new online disability hub.
What were salaries like when Chemistry World launched?
The respondents to the 2004 Pay and Reward survey had an overall median salary of £35,966. Adjusted for UK inflation, that’s equivalent to £62,027 today – £12,000 higher than the median calculated from the 2023 survey responses.
There’s been some progress on reducing the gender pay gap. In 2004 women earned just 75% of men’s earnings; today, they earn 80.2%. If the same rate of increase continues, women and men will achieve salary parity around the time of Chemistry World’s 96th anniversary.
The survey results also reveal the persistence of gender, race, LGBTQ+ and disability pay gaps. The median salary for women is 80% of the median men’s salary; disabled respondents earn 86% of the salary of non-disabled individuals; and people who identify as LGBTQ+ earn 85% as much as cisgender heterosexual respondents. Analysis of the data from only UK-based participants also shows that the median salary of people from minoritised racial backgrounds is 86% of the median earned by white people.
One potential contributor to these differences revealed by the survey results is that the lower-earning groups hold a lower level of job responsibility on average. This raises further questions about whether bias or discrimination affect career progression for certain demographic groups. In the foreword to the Pay and Reward report, Sarah Robertson, director of education and professional practice at the RSC, said ‘we are committed to reporting on pay disparity and differing experiences within our community to enable employers and individuals to understand and address these gaps’.
‘Data from the RSC’s Pay and Reward 2023 report makes it clear that there is an inherent link between wellbeing and peoples’ financial situation,’ said Zoe Ayres, president of the RSC’s analytical science community council. ‘We also know that when scientists find themselves in a supportive environment this enables better science. With the ongoing cost-of-living crisis in the United Kingdom, ensuring scientists are being paid a fair, living wage can really help alleviate stress and anxiety over money worries, and improve wellbeing.’
The RSC’s predecessor, the Royal Institute of Chemistry, performed its first salary survey in 1919, and the RSC now asks members about their salary, benefits and work environment every two years. The full archive of reports – including the 2023 results – is available to members at chemistryworld.com/members/pay-and-reward