What’s Happened To Your Salary In The Last Decade?

What’s Happened To Your Salary In The Last Decade?

Chances are good that you’re making more money now then you were just before the millennium turned — but are you keeping pace with the average Australian?

I started reflecting on this issue the other week when a mailing list I follow started discussing pay rates in various industries. Most of us have a reasonable idea of what we earn now, and probably know how that’s changed (if it has changed) over our careers, but it helps to be able to put those figures in context.

Average weekly earnings aren’t the ideal way of measuring income — in some ways, a median figure would be better, since it would eliminate the influence of people like the mega-wealthy Rich 200. But average weekly earnings is what the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tracks, so it’s the best figure we can get.

In the most recent figures for May 2009, the ABS says that the full time ordinary adult earnings were just under $1200 a week. If you go back to May 1999, the same figure is just under $750.

That represents an increase of 60% if you compare the two figures directly, although that’s the most dramatic way of stating it. Year-on-year, it represents a percentage increase of just under 5%.

In practice, salaries don’t generally rise that smoothly, even if you have stayed in exactly the same job. The ABS data itself demonstrates this: the average percentage rise between May 2008 and May 2009 is 5.9%, while from May 1998 to May 1999 average earnings rose by a rather more modest 2.9%.

Salary figures in and of themselves don’t tell the whole story, of course. Given the effects of inflation, that level of change may not seem to make much practical difference. If you’ve had kids, then the way you allocate your budget will have increased dramatically. Similarly, if you’ve changed your approach to work — becoming self-employed or moving to fewer days a week — you might happily accept a trade-off in quality of life versus raw dollars.

However, those numbers do give you a basis for comparison. Dig out a payslip or bank statement from ten years ago, and then compare it to what you’re earning now. (If maths wasn’t ever your forte, you can work that out as a percentage by taking what you earn now, subtracting what you earned then (over the same time period, obviously), dividing by what you earned then, and multiplying by 100.) If you haven’t seen a rise of 60%, then it might be time for some serious soul searching and career re-evaluation.

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • “the average percentage rise between May 2008 and May 2009 is 5.9%, while from May 1998 to May 1998 average earnings rose by a rather more modest 2.9%.”

    You wrote 1998 twice?

    Would also be interesting to compare how salary is used in terms of percentage spent on accommodation, groceries etc year-on-year.

  • While I understand what you’re trying to say by using the median instead of the mean, you’ll probably find they’re not too different from each other. Even if they are quite far apart, however, the physical “middle number” of the series of data wouldn’t really be very informative either (especially if the bell-curve is skewed). The problem with using “average” by itself is it gives no indication of the spread of the data – you need the standard deviation included to be able to tell where your income would sit compared to the average, and the rest of the population (ie – what percentile).

    Personally I’m rather upset that my pay only increased by 2% in the past 12 months boohoo. My “ordinary hours” pay is 35% above the average, but my “total” earnings is 148% above the average so I’ve really got nothing to complain about, I suppose!

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