Private Sector vs. Government Sector Pay By Profession

A breakdown of the private sector jobs that significantly out earn their federal government peers.

By Kavita Pillai & Chris Kolmar

If you could pick, what would you want your job title to be:

A. Partner at The Law Firm Of BenJarvus Green-Ellis


B. Assistant Attorney General

Both sound tremendously promising, don't they? It's just that one of them is a private, for-profit sector job and one is a federal government job at about the same level of experience.

While you might consider a range of factors when making this decision, the most important factor at the end of the day is money -- which sector gets paid more for the same job?

If you are in a highly specialized field - e.g. law, medicine, finance, engineering - then private, for-profit salaries are much higher than those offered the federal government.

Let's break down the top ten jobs where you'd earn a lot more in the private, for-profit sector:

  1. Lawyers and Judges (+$61,364 Higher Average Salary)
  2. Financial Services Agents (Stock Brokers) (+$61,220)
  3. Petroleum and Geological Engineers (+$55,193)
  4. Personal Financial Advisors (+$51,347)
  5. Physicians and Surgeons (+$49,930)
  6. Agents and Business Managers (+$47,583)
  7. Podiatrists (+$46,244)
  8. Aircraft Pilots (+$45,452)
  9. Financial Analysts (+$38,410)
  10. Chemical Engineers (+$32,091)

So to answer our initial question, that partner track position at The Law Firm Of BenJarvus Green-Ellis is looking pretty good.

And if you are in one of these 10 fields, you are better off working in the private, for-profit sector than for the federal government as these are all highly specialized positions that require extensive training.

Read on for more on how we calculated the spreads between private and government jobs.

How We Determined The Jobs With Largest Private, For-Profit Sector Premium

We looked at PUMS American Community Survey data from 2012-2016, focusing on the income of employees working for the federal government and the private, for-profit sector.

We specifically considered the average income of full time employees between the ages of 25 and 66.

We, then, narrowed down the ones that had at least 100 observations for both the federal government and the private, for-profit sector. That gave us 426 occupations for which employment opportunities exist in both the federal government and the private, for-profit sector.

Finally, we took the result and ranked the professions where the average salary of a private, for-profit sector employee was the highest compared to a government employee .

Below is a more detailed look at the top ten.

1. Lawyers and Judges -- $61,364 Higher Average Salary

There is a reason why new lawyers are seduced by the charms of law firms: Money is charming.

That's where the clients are, that's where the salaries are, and that's where the prestige still is.

In a firm, you'll work (much) harder, but the money is, on average, way better, as you can see from our analysis.

When we compared the average salaries of federal government employees to that of the private, for-profit employees, we found that a lawyer in the private, for-profit sector made, on average, approximately $61,364 more than their equivalent in the federal government.

2. Financial Services Agents -- $61,220 Higher Average Salary

A Financial Services Agent can help by providing financial and legal oversight for groups and individuals when they work either in the government or in the nonprofit industry. In the private,for-profit sector, they are what we commonly call stock brokers or stock traders.

While oversight is the goal for the government/nonprofit employees, profit is what guides the employees working in the private, for-profit sector.

Considering profit = money, the private, for-profit sector pays a lot more in this sector.

3. Petroleum and Geological Engineers -- $55,193 Higher Average Salary

Engineers always tend to be in the top 10 category of any list that talks about career success, and our list is no different.

Our No. 3 spot is taken up by engineers, specifically Petroleum and Geological Engineers. These particular branch of engineers also make a lot more money working in the private, for-profit sector (BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, you get the idea) than federally-employed engineers.

The average total annual income of the surveyed engineers was $101,440, while the median income for federal employees was $100,650.

Also, don't forget, most engineering jobs only need a bachelor's degree.

4. Personal Financial Advisors -- $51,347 Higher Average Salary

A 2017 CNBC article claimed that Personal Financial Advisor positions were the toughest to fill, and that is good news for anyone aspiring to become one.

This is for a good reason: To better manage periods of extreme market volatility, some advisory firms, including Charles Schwab and Betterment, are beefing up the number of advisors on hand to enhance their automated investing services for clients and so is The Federal Reserve and other government agencies.

The national average salary for a Personal Financial Advisor working for the federal government is $83366, which is over $50,000 less than their private, for-profit sector counterparts at $134,713.

5. Physicians And Surgeon -- $49,930 Higher Average Salary

We have all heard the various sides of the "socialized medicine debate." We also know how skeptical the doctors were of the repercussions of the Affordable Care Act.

We decided to take a look at how different the salaries of doctors and surgeons, on average, were between private, for-profit hospitals and their government counterparts.

Hospitals can be for-profit, non-profit, or government-owned. For-profit hospitals make up less than 20% of the total hospitals in the United States.

Our analysis showed that doctors working in the private, for-profit sector once again made more than doctors working in the public sector: Almost $50,000 more. The Affordable Care Act doesn't seem to have affected these numbers.

6. Agents And Managers Of Artists, Performers, And Athletes -- $47,583 Higher Average Salary

It makes sense that agents and business manager working for Jay Z or Beyonce would make a lot of money.

And that fits in quite well with our overall analysis of the job. Business managers tend to make a significantly larger income working with celebrities and other public figures than they would in the federal government.

7. Podiatrists -- $46,244 Higher Average Salary

After looking at the difference in the salaries of physicians and surgeons working in for-profit vs. non-profit public hospitals, it comes as no surprise that a podiatrist makes more in a private, for-profit practice.

8. Aircraft Pilots And Flight Engineers -- $45,452 Higher Average Salary

Although a lot of pilots or flight engineers come from the government side (the military, for instance), most of them still come from a civilian background.

Add that to the number of years that the military demands from pilots (10 years from graduation), and the pay difference, the private, for-profit commercial airline industry is more lucrative.

The thing to keep in mind is when you apply to be a pilot or flight engineer in the military, you don't need to have the license or degree in hand. The military pays for it.

9. Financial Analysts -- $38,410 Higher Average Salary

The federal government always needs finance graduates, and the pay, on average, is fairly good. But there is a cap on how much money you can make and raises are seldom once you are close to that cap.

In the private, for-profit sector, not only do you make more on average, but we all know how the sky's the limit when it comes to raises and bonuses. Seen "Wolf of Wall Street," right?

10. Chemical Engineers -- $32,091 Higher Average Salary

Here is engineering once again. It is the last one on our top 10, but it is quite interesting. The BLS data from 2010 showed that chemical engineers made more working for the federal government than for the private, for-profit sector.

However, our analysis of the most recent BLS data, shows that the state of affairs has changed. It is the private,for-profit sector that wins this time with a more competitive salary for their chemical engineers.


Next time you are considering whether you want to work for the federal government or go into the private, for-profit sector, you can make a more informed decision with our data. Remember, looking at data and trends help.

Our research shows that on average, across all fields and positions, federal government employees make more money than employees working in the private, for-profit sector, and this is not counting benefits or other perks.

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