Recording the greatest rise in earnings since this survey began nearly 30 years ago, Aziz Mirza finds some good news for architects
A positive picture emerges for the year to April – average earnings have grown impressively. Some of the biggest increases are recorded by sole principal architects, the group which has seen such big falls in earnings since the recession began. Now in recovery mode, the level of economic activity has allowed sole principals’ average earnings to rise for only the second time since 2008. As sole principals account for 16 per cent of all architects, a 5 per cent pay rise for this group is significant. Other star performers are private in-house and central government architects who, together with more modest earnings growth among private practice salaries architects, help to achieve an overall average growth of 7 per cent across the profession. This is the fastest rate of growth in the profession’s average earnings since 2009, and comes after last year’s flat-lining.
It’s also only the second year in the last seven that architects’ average earnings have increased by more than inflation. Furthermore, the differential between inflation (0 per cent) and the rise in architects’ earnings (7 per cent) is the greatest ever recorded by this survey since it began in 1987.
Not only are average earnings growing; so too is the number of architects. The latest Arb figures show that there are 1500 more (net) registered with it than last year; and the increase is split 50-50 between UK and EU qualified architects. The survey suggests that slightly more architects are working part-time, and slightly more are not working; nevertheless, given the rise in Arb registrants, the total number working full-time has grown by an estimated 800 in the last year alone. And all this growth has been absorbed by private practice, in particular private practice salaried. The rise in the ‘supply’ of architects to private practice salaried may well be a factor in explaining why average salaries in this employment field have increased by only around half the rate of growth recorded by the profession overall. Private practice salaried architects record a 3 per cent rise this year, compared with the overall 7 per cent rise. Given the continued low levels of unemployment – and under-employment – reported in this year’s survey, it is clear that increasing numbers are needed to meet current workload levels. This suggests that the profession needs to lobby for continued access to European practitioners as part of Britain’s negotiations to exit the EU.
Looking in detail at the results, the survey shows that, as usual, the highest paid are principals in partnership (average £55,000), central government architects (£56,500) and private in-house (£69,600). Sole principals earn on average £36,651. Salaried architects in private practices average £40,000.
The difference between the highest earning group (private in-house) and the lowest (sole principals) is considerable. But there’s also substantial variation within each employment field. The greatest variation in earnings is reported by principals; for example, the upper quartile figure for principals in partnership is exactly double the lower quartile – meaning the ‘top’ quarter of principals earn £80,000 or more, while the ‘bottom’ quarter earn £40,000 or less. A quarter of sole principals earn £25,000 or less while at the other end, a quarter earn £52,250 or more. So for both of groups of principals, those in the highest earning quarter earn at least twice as much as the lowest earning quarter.
Compared to last year, the highest growth is recorded by architects in two person practices. Large practices (over 30 staff) record a fall in average earnings of around 2 per cent; and for the second year in a row, average earnings are higher in the 31 to 50 size group than for the 50 plus. This year’s falls are mainly due to lower average earnings by partners and directors in these larger firms; salaried architects in the 50 plus sized practices have seen increases of 7 per cent.
London architects record the highest average earnings in the UK – as in previous years – for every staffing category in private practice. Overall, earnings in London are 10 per cent higher than the national average. London principals in partnership report joint highest earnings with those in the Midlands/East Anglia and the South East. Average earnings for salaried architects in private practice are notably higher in London than elsewhere, for example the differential with the South East, which records the next highest earnings, is 21 per cent.
What is unusual this year is that outside London and the South East, average earnings are almost identical across the UK; occupying a very small range of £40,000-£41,000.
Comparing average earnings this year with last, it is notable that the parts of the UK which recorded the largest drops last time – Scotland and Northern Ireland – have seen the largest rises this year. Average earnings are unchanged in London, the South East and the Midlands/East Anglia. No region records a fall in average earnings.
As in previous years, the survey records a significant differential between male and female architects’ average earnings. Women average £38,000 – 20 per cent less than men (£47,280). This partly reflects the fact that women are more likely to work as private practice salaried architects, who report lower average earnings than partners or directors, central government architects or in-house architects; but even in private practice salaried women earn, on average, 10 per cent less than their male colleagues.
The proportion of full-time women architects continues to grow, standing at 28 per cent. This is a new peak and is significantly higher than the previous peak of 24 per cent, recorded in 2008 – by 2011 that figure had fallen to below 20 per cent. The highest proportion of women is to be found among private practice salaried architects, at 31 per cent. But even this figure is substantially lower than the 38 per cent of students passing Part 3 exams who are female, or the 50 per cent that start Part 1 courses.
The survey shows that substantial differences remain in work patterns between the genders. A much higher proportion of women than men work part time (24 per cent as against 13 per cent). While unemployment rates are identical (2 per cent), the proportion of female architects who are not working for other reasons is 12 per cent – substantially higher than the 2 per cent of men. Our research for the Architects’ Council of Europe shows the UK profession lags behind much of Europe in approaching a gender balance. The 28 per cent of architects who are female in Britain compares with 37 per cent across Europe as a whole, and is well below the figure in countries such as Turkey, Greece, Denmark or Sweden; which have achieved something close to a 50-50 split between the sexes. That is what student intakes have been at the UK’s Schools of Architecture recently; it remains a challenge to even approach that ratio among new entrants into the profession.
Aziz Mirza is a director of The Fees Bureau. RIBA Members can see summary statistics and buy the full report, Architects’ Earnings, from feesbureau.co.uk, tel 01243 555302
The annual RIBA / The Fees Bureau Architects Employment & Earnings Survey is a research survey conducted exclusively amongst RIBA members and excludes members based overseas. A sample of members was invited by email to complete an online questionnaire form in April and May 2016. Around 1,200 architects responded; we are very grateful for these members’ willingness to provide their earnings information and for continuing to support the survey. Together these 1,200 participants represent all areas of architecture: private and public sectors; full-time and part-time; men and women; and all ethnic groups. The profile of the sample by age and region is broadly consistent with previous years.