Architects’ 15% average earnings rise wipes out recent years’ under-performance as salaries restore their long-term trajectory shows RIBA survey
Key findings of this year’s RIBA/The Fees Bureau Architects Employment & Earnings Survey
- Architects’ average earnings on 1 April 2023: £50,000
- A rise of 15% from last year
- Average earnings keep up with inflation over the long-term
- 13% work part-time
- 5% unemployed or not working for other reasons
Architects have seen average earnings rise by the largest figure ever recorded – up by 15% on the year to April. That’s the stand-out finding from this year’s RIBA/The Fees Bureau Earnings Survey. That rate of increase is more than twice as fast as any increase figure since this survey began in the 1980s. That’s a staggering achievement. After six years of poor performance, whether brought on by pandemic recovery or supply-side issues, architects’ earnings have now returned to their long-term trajectory. For at least 15 years, between 1995 and 2010, we saw average earnings rising consistently year on year. The financial crisis brought the first set of doldrums, and ever since then that long-established pattern was replaced by one in which average earnings were nearly always outperformed by inflation.
This year sees earnings fully make up for recent years’ under-performance. Finally, growth in architects’ average earnings between 1995 and 2023 exactly matches inflation over the same period. However, to a certain extent it’s disappointing to see that average earnings have only matched, and not exceeded, inflation over those 30 years.
The relationship between changes in the number of architects and in earnings is fascinating, and we’ve pointed before to the way these supply-side factors appear to affect average earnings. The number of architects grew very gradually between 1995 and 2008, while average earnings rose quickly. The financial crisis brought a period of turbulence, but the economy had settled down by 2014 – by which time the growth in the number of architects started to accelerate. Between 2014 and 2020 more than 8,000 architects were added to the workforce. From 2016, however, average earnings stopped growing and then, in 2019, actually fell. Falling earnings during a period of economic growth was, until then, unprecedented. And it’s hard not to link the big rise in the number of architects with the fall in average earnings. If we leave the disruptive effects of the pandemic to one side, we can see a revival of the link between architect numbers and average earnings happening this year. The workforce shrank by nearly 1,000 architects this year, and this may have contributed to the record rise in average earnings.
So, the big picture is one of a slightly smaller profession but rising earnings. This year, the largest rises are recorded by salaried architects working in private practice or elsewhere. Once again, it is those working for private companies as in-house architects or consultants who record the largest pay rises, up by 33% this year (although last year’s figure was unusually low). Public sector architects’ average earnings are higher by 19% in local authorities or even more in central government. The sector which employs more architects than any other, private practice salaried, shows a 13% improvement on last year’s figure; rising from an average £40,600 to £46,000.
Partners and directors in private practices saw their average pay rise by 9%. This is considerably less than the increase for salaried staff although it remains in line with inflation. Their pay pattern is also far better than that of sole principals, whose average earnings fell significantly, by 13%, over the year. The average sole principal architect currently earns £40,000 while the average partner and director reports an income of £60,000 – half as much more than sole principals.
It now appears that earnings in private practice are moving ahead strongly, although partners and directors are restricting their pay rise to no more than inflation while offering their staff substantially larger pay rises. This is probably to aid retention and recruitment. We can also see that the level of almost all fringe benefits offered to architects has increased this year; further evidence that employers are very serious in their efforts to retain and recruit. Indeed, the rate at which average earnings for salaried architects in private practices are increasing now out-performs that of partners and directors by a significant amount. Partners and directors’ average earnings have only just reached their pre-pandemic average, while salaried architects’ pay exceeds their pre-pandemic high by 12%.
This year’s survey shows that unemployment remains very low, less than 1%, although more architects are not working for other reasons (4%). Some 13% of the profession works part-time, but as in previous years, more than twice as many female architects (22%) are working part-time compared with male architects (9%). Historically there has been a gender pay gap where average architects’ pay received by male architects exceeds that received by females. In 2023 that gap narrowed to 8%, returning to its pre-pandemic level.
The RIBA/The Fees Bureau Earnings Survey now includes more data about the profession’s diversity. The gender split is 68% male, 32% female and 1% ‘other’ or ‘prefer not to say’. Ten years ago, 23% of architects were female (‘other’ was not recorded). Ethnically, 4% of architects are Asian or Asian British, 1% Black/African/Caribbean/Black British, 1% mixed/multiple ethnic groups, 2% ‘other’. The proportion who are white has remained unchanged at between 92 and 94% over the past 20 years – no sign of a more diverse profession on that metric. About 8% of architects consider themselves to have a disability or a long-term health condition; dyslexia being mentioned most often, followed by physical, hearing or multiple conditions.
And in a new question this year as a proxy for measuring access to the profession, 53% – the majority – say they were the first generation in their immediate family to go to university. It will be fascinating to see how these measures change over time.
Aziz Mirza is a director of The Fees Bureau
A full report on the survey, Architects Earnings, includes detailed tables and charts, is available to purchase from The Fees Bureau
The annual RIBA / The Fees Bureau Architects Employment & Earnings Survey is a research survey conducted among RIBA members and excludes members based overseas. A sample of members was invited by email to complete an on-line questionnaire form in April to July 2023.