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February 11, 2021
How experience, type of role, and company size play into how much UX researchers make.
In our 2020 State of User Research Report, which analyzed survey responses from over 300 people who do research, we found that the most common salary range for people who do research was between $75,000 - $149,999. 53% of the PwDRs we surveyed earned salaries that fell into this range.
Breaking that down further ($75k - $150k is quite the range after all):
This lines up with data from Glassdoor, which lists the average salary for a user experience researcher at $94,765. Since our survey also included people who do research, like product managers and designers, we’ll be leaning more heavily on Glassdoor’s data for UX researcher specific salaries.
Experience plays one of the biggest roles in your salary. In our State of User Research report, we found that, unsurprisingly, salary increased with years of experience.
You can see in this graph that the majority of people with less than 1 year of experience earn $49,999 or less. That increases to between $50,000 and $99,999 with 1-4 years of experience. Then it increases again to $75,000 to $149,000 with 5-20 years of experience, with increases in the amount of people earning the higher $100,000 to $149,000 tier as they gain experience.
Data from Glassdoor also supports this kind of salary growth, though the average salary for entry level UX researchers is $75,259. Experience is one of the best factors you can use to determine what your salary should be as a UX researcher, so consider it first when looking at what a fair salary would be.
Company size can shape what exactly your role as a user researcher might look like. In a small company, you may be the only researcher, whereas at a larger one, you may be one of many researchers on a team. This is something to consider, not only for salary purposes but also for what kind of role you want to pursue.
Larger companies are more likely to have junior positions available, making them a better choice for researchers at the beginning of their careers. Plus, you’ll have a team to show you the ins and outs of user research. At a smaller company, you may be a user research team of one, which makes for some really interesting challenges and gives you the opportunity to have a lasting impact on your company.
Not sure which would be right for you? Amber Davis, UXR Director at Audible, shared some great advice on how to think about your UXR career and what’s right for you.
“I've approached it as a journaling exercise and I'll be honest, I'm not a person who tends to journal. But I think really tapping into what you've done in the past and what you hope to do and really trying to drop the emotions around it will really help you figure out, is this something that's going to make me happy?
Or is this something that is ultimately going to be frustrating? That's how I've done it in the past to decide, is this the right next step for me?”
So how does all of this affect the salary you may earn? In short, as the company size increases, so does this average salary. This is likely because there are more resources available for user researchers at a 5,000 person company than at a 50 person company.
Here’s how Glassdoor breaks it down:
As you can see, the average salary for user researchers at smaller companies is much lower than the average salary at larger ones. Huge companies of 5,000 people or more pay much more on average than tiny companies of less than 50 people.
The last factor that can make a huge difference in salary expectations is location. To keep things simple, we focused on different locations in the United States. Obviously, the cost of living somewhere like San Francisco is much higher than that of Kansas City. Ideally, salaries should reflect similar purchasing power for researchers, regardless of where they live. So, let's dig into that idea and try to find out where it’s best to be a UX researcher in terms of salary, when you consider cost of living.
To look at this more closely, we evaluated at Glassdoor’s salary information for user researchers and the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index. The COLI report looks at cost of living in many different metro areas, and the average of all locations evaluated is 100 points.
For example, my hometown, Atlanta, GA scores a 102.3 on the COLI report, setting it squarely in the middle in terms of cost of living. A user researcher in Atlanta, GA earns $81,961 on average, according to Glassdoor. We’ll use this as our benchmark when evaluating how much researchers earn in different locations.
Let me illustrate:
In San Francisco, the cost of living is rated at 200.1, a 95% increase from Atlanta’s 102.3. However, the average user researcher’s salary in San Francisco is $115,281, just 40.65% higher than what researchers in Atlanta earn. So, you as a user researcher could probably live more comfortably in Atlanta than San Francisco, even though you may make less.
Here’s a look at cities that have data both in the COLI report and 5+ salaries listed within their average on Glassdoor:
We also looked at the difference between the cost of living and salary to identify places where the gap is smallest. For example, the cost of living in Manhattan is 133% higher than our benchmark, while the salary is only 20.67% higher. This leaves a giant -112 point gap between salary and cost of living, implying that you may have a more difficult time making a comfortable wage in Manhattan.
On the other hand, in Houston, TX, the average UX Researcher salary is 0.04% higher than our benchmark, while the cost of living is 6.74% lower. This leaves a 7 point gap, putting researchers in a more comfortable position to manage the cost of living in Houston.
This is, of course, not a comprehensive overview of what you’ll make in each city, since that also depends on your experience, company size, and many other factors. It’s instead an interesting way to see what average differences are between different cities.
Hopefully, this data has given you a better understanding of what average salaries for UX researchers are based on experience, company size, and location. When evaluating what you’re worth as a UX researcher, these are all important factors that can help you ask for a fair salary.
Check out the ✨The State of User Research 2021 Report✨ for insights on UXR salaries, job experience, methods, and more.
Carrie Boyd is a UXR content wiz, formerly at User Interviews. She loves writing, traveling, and learning new things. You can typically find her hunched over her computer with a cup of coffee the size of her face.