I am a first year PhD student. The amount of funding that I receive, in my opinion, is bare minimum. After covering all of my expenses, I'm hardly left with anything or in some of the months, nothing. And, let me tell you that I'm a thrifty and economical person. I'm not spending my money carelessly (tbh, I won't be able to even if I want to). Also, I have heard some mathematicians complaining about how difficult it was for them and their families to manage during the initial years of their post-doc.

Also, the kind of work we do is not "easy". I'm not saying that in other professions people have an "easy" life, but I think there are few professions (maybe outside academia) where people work less hard than us and are still earning more. Many people don't even get enough time to enjoy life with their families because of their research, seminars, supervision, etc.

I know I'm just a first year graduate student, I won't be earning a lot. But looking at the bigger picture, it makes me wonder: Are mathematicians(including graduate students) paid enough? or in general, are people in academia paid enough? If not, then why are people not trying to change the situation?

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    It's supply and demand. There are far more people who want graduate student or postdoc jobs than there are slots, even at the current stipends. Accepting a lower pay is part of the process of pursuing the academic dream.
    – knzhou
    Aug 4, 2021 at 3:35
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    I think the salary of a math grad student varies by university (there was a recent reddit post talking about it). A math faculty is paid much better than that, though that depends on location/ cost of living. But tbh I think you should be more concerned with the availability of a job than the pay of a job...
    – k99731
    Aug 4, 2021 at 3:40
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    @FreePawn And that's exactly the reason: lots of people grow up dreaming of being mathematicians. Not so many dream of being bankers. Even though there are many more bankers than mathematicians.
    – knzhou
    Aug 4, 2021 at 3:41
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    "are you suggesting that one should choose their profession based on the salary that is paid, and not based on their interest?" You have to make a trade-off: Most people want a high paying job that they like, but very few people are so lucky that their interests and skills align with a high paying job. So you have to make a decision: how much potential income are you willing to sacrifice for doing a job you like. Aug 4, 2021 at 7:42
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    There is an element of luck here (someone's interests and skills aligning with what happens to be a high paying job), and you could argue that that is unfair. However, changing that involves a fundamental reorganization of society. There are good arguments for and against that, but they are far outside the scope of this forum. Aug 4, 2021 at 7:43

5 Answers 5


You said in a comment that your question is specific to academia. For the United States, a good source on how much mathematics faculty in academia are paid is the American Mathematical Society's Faculty Salaries Report, based on a survey sent annually to mathematics departments at many universities. Their latest report is from 2018-19 and contains salary statistics for different academic ranks at different groups of universities (split into different categories such as large public university, medium public university, small private university etc).

The report has a lot of data so I won't try to summarize it, but to address your question about whether academic mathematicians are paid enough, we can see from the report that the median annual salary reported for a full professor in the "large private university" group (page 5 of the report) was $155,000, the mean salary was $182,160, and the third quartile salary was $195,000. I think most reasonable people would agree that such numbers qualify as "enough" to be paid for doing something that you love. Indeed, for a lot of people this would be more than enough.

At the lower end of the spectrum, if we look at salary distribution for new assistant professors at institutions that grant only bachelor's degrees (page 11 of the report), we see quite a different range of numbers. Here the median salary was $57,500, and the first quartile salary was $47,500. Whether that's "enough" would depend on one's outlook, personal situation, and future plans and prospects.

Bottom line: the most successful people in academic math are doing quite well. Some of the least successful might be struggling. Mathematicians are a diverse group, and the question of what counts as "enough" is a complicated philosophical question anyway, and a rather subjective one at that.

  • Are these net figures? Aug 4, 2021 at 14:56
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    @henning no, the net figure would depend on any individual’s particular tax situation so would be meaningless to report as a reference for any comparisons. In the US net salaries are never really discussed.
    – Dan Romik
    Aug 4, 2021 at 15:46

Think of the person collecting your garbage, the janitor who keeps the building clean, the ... There are many people who work very very hard and get little pay. In a market economy you don't get paid based on how hard you work, or how valuable your work is. It is based on supply and demand. So if you want to change that, you have to move away from a market economy. You don't have to go full communist, there are hybrid systems that work fairly well (though very far from perfect). Further discussing this is far outside the scope of this forum.

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    The first sentence of this answer reminds me of a thought experiment: What would happen if all mathematicians suddenly stopped working? What would happen if all garbage collectors suddenly stopped working? This helps me avoid exaggerated ideas about my own importance. Aug 4, 2021 at 16:40

On its own more money is always better on an individual level and I certainly did not complain about the last raise I got. But as a counterargument consider the global optimization problem for academia.

What do we (as mathematicians) want as a goal for the whole system? I thing the answer should be the most (good) mathematics, both in teaching as in research. Now the thing is that we have to achieve that on a fixed budget, coming from all kinds of funding sources.¹ So paying people better generally means hiring less people.

And this is the point where it gets complicated. While you will generally get better mathematicians if you pay more, the effects are far from linear. If you pay double, you will never get people who work twice as fast, which on its own would pull salaries down to zero. On the other hand, the pool of available competent mathematicians depends on the salary offered as well. As an extreme example, if you offer less than the cost of living for your area, you are limited to a enthusiasts with independent income (if they don't go somewhere else). If you combine these two factors, I'd argue that you will end up roughly where we are right now.²

What adds to this is that money is not everything, especially if you get it for doing something that you would probably do in your free time anyway. My current post-doc salary is not huge, but it pays for a reasonably sized apartment, puts food on my table and even after occasionally wasting too much of it on things I don't actually need, there is generally a reasonable percentage left over. If you pay me more, my spending would not change. I could probably retire earlier with all the money I would save up, but the thing is, I do not want to retire, since I like doing what I currently do.

Of course with this, I am not speaking for everybody. But in general academia cannot compete with industry using money alone. There are certainly some investment bankers that could have been brilliant mathematicians, but who currently earn more than entire university departments.

¹I know that the budget is not fixed in a strict sense, but getting e.g. a big increase in budget for opening a new department does not change the problem, as you are expected to produce proportionally more work. I also assume that salaries are generally corrected for inflation.

²In my opinion PhD-students are generally somewhat underpaid and professors salaries might be a bit above the optimum, but the same discrepancy is true in any profession. And as mentioned by others, the numbers are highly location dependent.


I went to grad school in math straight from undergrad. Looking back, I definitely think that students considering grad school should make sure they have some financial stability before going to grad school. I would advise my former self to work for a few years at a "real job", save up some money, start a retirement account, etc. Then, once you have that, you can go to grad school without worrying too much about not having much of a salary, because you have money saved up and you're not living paycheck to paycheck, so to speak. And your retirement account money will be accruing interest while you're in grad school.

As pointed out in the comments, salary varies quite a bit depending on the university. Private universities probably pay a lot more. I went to a public university. We went on strike for better pay. It would be nice if we didn't have to do that.

One benefit to being a grad student, though, is that as long as you maintain good academic standing, you should be fully funded for several years (around 5 or 6). This means you basically have a guaranteed source of income and you don't really have to worry about being fired. This is in contrast with many "at-will" employers, where you can be fired at any time and, oh well, you're out of work.

Also, if your advisor can fund you with a Research Assistantship, it basically means that you can get paid to do math and not have to teach. You can wake up whenever you want, sleep whenever you want, work some days and not others, etc. You basically have complete freedom, and you get paid!

In addition, funding could be tight during the summer months, with fewer students enrolling in courses. When I was in grad school, summer funding was typically given but not guaranteed. If you can get a summer internship in industry, you could be paid a lot more than you would by teaching summer courses. And you would pick up valuable industry skills. So consider setting aside some time to look into that.

In general, what counts as "enough" varies from person to person. Some people need more money to support their lifestyle and their personal needs than others. However, one thing some mathematicians do is the following. They apply for a position at a different university and get it. Then they tell the department chair, "I got a position at this university, and they will pay me X amount, which is more than I'm making here. You'd better increase my salary, or I'm out of here!" The department says, "OK, we'll pay you more. Please don't leave!" And they say, "Thank you. I'll stay."

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    I think it would be better to specify the country in your answer (probably the US?). In various countries, many of the things you write do not apply. (Random example: "This is in contrast with many 'at-will' employers, where you can be fired at any time." For instance, at-will employment does not occur, at the scale your indicating, in Germany. Even less so in France, I think.) Aug 4, 2021 at 5:40

united states

The average living wage in the US is $16.54 per hour, or $68,808 per year, in 2019, before taxes for a family of four (two working adults, two children).

The average salary for a mathematician is $121,259 per year. This ranges from $84,254 for an entry-level mathematician (1-3 years of working experience) to $150,869 for those with 8+ years of experience.

Since $84,254 > $68,808, I conclude that mathematicians are paid more than enough.

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    I assume the definition of a mathematician excludes postdocs, graduate students, and quite some lecturers
    – k99731
    Aug 4, 2021 at 4:35
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    I also doubt if by mathematician they mean people in academia or in corporate sectors/industries.
    – It'sMe
    Aug 4, 2021 at 4:36
  • @k99731 you'd have to ask the OP what their definition of mathematician is.
    – Allure
    Aug 4, 2021 at 4:46
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    @FreePawn, If a mathematician is not someone in academia or in industry, then where can one find mathematicians?
    – JRN
    Aug 4, 2021 at 6:05
  • @JoelReyesNoche what I meant was that, I'm not sure if in that statistics they only considered people from academia or industries or both. My question is specific to academia
    – It'sMe
    Aug 4, 2021 at 6:16

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