Highest Paying Jobs: 2018

Money can't buy happiness, but we live in a world where it's exchanged for goods and services. Until that economic model changes, higher paying jobs allow us to buy more of the things our families may want or need.

In this article, we're going to provide several lists of the highest paying jobs in America, as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We're also going to slice and dice that data several different ways, revealing some interesting trends in the information. We'll also help answer questions such as:

  • What will be the highest paying job in 2018 or 2019?
  • What's the value of a higher education?

Salary Information

The information in the following lists is based on data gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics here in the United States. The most current data was gathered through a survey conducted in 2017; and the results of that survey were published in May 2018. This year's information should be available around May of 2019, at which point we will update this article. This is a pattern we've followed for the last twelve years.

The salary information is based on what are called Standard Occupational Classification codes. These codes give those conducting the salary survey a consistent way to describe certain careers, or professions, as well as a way to group similar jobs into larger categories.  In many of the tables below, we'll not only provide the average salary for each job type, but also the percentage change in salary from the prior year's survey.

Careers in America

To demonstrate how this works, this first list will contain what we're calling the highest paying careers in America. This particular list ranks all occupational categories, which are groups of similar jobs.  The list below is ordered from the highest to lowest paying, on a National basis:

Highest Paying Occupations

Career / Occupations
Average Salary
Management Occupations $119,910
Legal Occupations $107,370
Computer and Mathematical Occupations $89,810
Architecture and Engineering Occupations $86,190
Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations $80,760
Business and Financial Operations Occupations $76,330
Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations $74,370
Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media Occupations $58,950
Education, Training, and Library Occupations $55,470
All Occupations $50,620
Construction and Extraction Occupations $49,930
Community and Social Service Occupations $48,050
Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations $47,870
Protective Service Occupations $47,190
Sales and Related Occupations $40,680
Production Occupations $38,070
Office and Administrative Support Occupations $37,950
Transportation and Material Moving Occupations $37,070
Healthcare Support Occupations $31,310
Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations $28,930
Farming, Fishing, and Forestry Occupations $28,840
Personal Care and Service Occupations $27,270
Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations $24,710

This is a good place to start, because it provides the range of salaries across all occupation types. The information also provides an understanding of the types of jobs that require a college degree; as well as how much money each career type pays.

One item we found interesting in the above table was that medical careers, as described by "Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations," only ranked fifth on this list. But as we'll soon see, that ranking can be deceiving.

Highest Paying Jobs

Next up is the list that many will agree is the single most interesting statistic published on wages and salaries:  The highest paying jobs in the United States:

Top 10 Highest Paying Jobs

Profession Average Salary % Change
Anesthesiologists $265,990 -1.30%
Surgeons $251,890 -0.40%
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons $242,740 4.20%
Obstetricians and Gynecologists $235,240 0.40%
Orthodontists $229,380 0.30%
Psychiatrists $216,090 7.90%
Physicians and Surgeons $214,700 2.20%
Family and General Practitioners $208,560 3.90%
Dentists, All Other Specialists $199,980 16.30%
Internists, General $198,370 -1.70%

 Healthcare professionals dominate the rankings, taking all ten of the top spots. What conclusions can we draw from this kind of information?

  • If you want to make a lot of money, and claim to be among the highest wage earners in America, then you need to be in the medical profession.
  • Despite all of the healthcare industry claims otherwise, medical doctors are the highest paid professionals in the working world today.

But what about individuals that don't have a medical degree:  What can they hope to earn?

Non-Healthcare Professions

To answer that question, we've provided a second list. This time we've removed all the medical professions to see what opportunities exist if you're not up for the challenge of being a doctor:

Top 10 Highest Paying Non-Medical Professions

Profession Average Salary % Change 
Chief Executives $196,050 0.90%
Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers $161,280 5.60%
Petroleum Engineers $154,780 5.30%
Computer and Information Systems Managers $149,730 2.70%
Architectural and Engineering Managers $146,290 1.70%
Marketing Managers $145,620 1.00%
Financial Managers $143,530 2.70%
Lawyers $141,890 1.40%
Sales Managers $137,650 1.90%
Natural Sciences Managers $133,670 -1.80%

It's no surprise that chief executive officers made this list. But what we found interesting is that airline pilots also placed in one of the top 10 spots. A trend we see in this ranking is professions with the term "manager" in the title. If you want to be paid a lot of money, it's important to have the skills it takes to be a manager or a leader.

Computer and Information Technology Jobs

Since we're publishing this information on the World Wide Web, we're adding something extra for IT and computer professionals.  To help individuals aspiring to be in the technology profession, we put together a list that outlines the higher paying computer / IT careers:

Highest Paying IT Jobs

Profession Average Salary % Change 
Chief Executives $196,050 0.90%
Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers $161,280 5.60%
Petroleum Engineers $154,780 5.30%
Computer and Information Systems Managers $149,730 2.70%
Architectural and Engineering Managers $146,290 1.70%
Marketing Managers $145,620 1.00%
Financial Managers $143,530 2.70%
Lawyers $141,890 1.40%
Sales Managers $137,650 1.90%
Natural Sciences Managers $133,670 -1.80%

From the above list, we see that computer scientists and software developers are the top paying professions in the IT world.  It's no surprise individuals that are learning the trade, such as computer support specialists, earns the least.

Money and Education

Median Salary by EducationWhen evaluating these labor statistics, we came across one other bit of information we thought would be interesting: How much someone is paid versus their investment in an education.

We were able to download data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the information is for 2015.  The data is for persons engaged in full-time employment, both salaried and hourly workers.  The information is for workers that are 25 years of age and over.

Value of an Education

This first table is the median annual salary for workers separated by the level of education attained.  Remember, the median is the midpoint of the salary range, roughly half of the individuals in the group earn more than the median, and half earn less.  Many statisticians prefer to state this type of information using median instead of using the mean, or average.

Earnings by Education Level
Education Median Salary
No Diploma $20,730
High School Diploma $35,540
Associate's Degree $49,470
Master's Degree $65,330
Bachelor's Degree $69,260
Doctoral or Professional Degree $98,940

The above table is read like this:  Individuals without a high school diploma earned around $21,000 per year, while individuals with a college diploma earned around $50,000.  This means a college graduate has over twice the earning potential of a high school dropout.

We thought that last statistic was so interesting that we took the information one step further.  We wanted to see how much each progressive level of education was worth.  So we put the following table together:

Comparison of Annual Pay versus Education
  No HS Associate's Master's Bachelor's Doctoral
  Diploma Diploma Degree Degree Degree Degree
No Diploma $0 ($14,810) ($28,740) ($44,600) ($48,530) ($78,210)
High School Diploma $14,810 $0 ($13,930) ($29,790) ($33,720) ($63,400)
Associate's Degree $28,740 $13,930 $0 ($15,860) ($19,790) ($49,470)
Master's Degree $44,600 $29,790 $15,860 $0 ($3,930) ($33,610)
Bachelor's Degree $48,530 $33,720 $19,790 $3,930 $0 ($29,680)
Doctoral Degree $78,210 $63,400 $49,470 $33,610 $29,680 $0

The above table is interpreted in this manner:  An individual with a high school diploma can expect to earn $13,930 less than someone that has an associate's degree.  A person with a college diploma, a bachelor's degree, can expect to make around $33,720 more money than someone with a high school diploma each year.  Clearly, there is a great deal of value to be derived from getting a college diploma.

Final High Paying Job List

We've taken the information published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over the last seven years, and compiled a list of the average salaries for all professions covered.  This is not a list of the top 20, 50, or 100 professions.  This list covers over 800 different jobs.

The list of average annual salaries is sorted in descending order, meaning the highest paying jobs are ranked at the top of the list.  The spreadsheet also contains eleven worksheets.  The first represents the most current information published today.  The next nine worksheets contain information for prior years.  Finally, the last sheet compares each year, and calculates the annual increase in average salary for each career type.  As is the case with all of the information we publish, it's yours to download for free.

About the Author - High Paying Careers