What Is a Good Salary?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A "good salary" will look different for different people. Learn more about how to assess your salary needs.

[Featured image] A woman in an orange blazer discusses her salary expectations in a job interview.

A good salary is one that enables you to comfortably support your desired lifestyle. Often, to determine the monetary value of a good salary, you need to consider a few additional factors, such as where you live, the number of people you’re supporting, or your industry.

Although it can be tempting to judge your salary directly against other people’s, that approach tends to ignore one or several of these influences. To illustrate, let’s look at the average salary in the United States.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage across all occupations in 2021 was $58,260 [1]. For a person living in Phoenix, Arizona, where the median wage is $56,610, earning above the national average may be considered very good. However, a person living in San Francisco, California, where the median wage is $86,590, may disagree [2]. Similarly, a single person supporting only themselves on a $58,260 salary may feel comfortable, while a person supporting a family of four on that same salary may feel stretched.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the different factors that can influence salary and walk through the thought process to determine what a good salary is for you.

Factors that impact salary

There are several factors that affect your salary, and each of those factors can help you assess whether you are being compensated adequately and fairly. Some common factors to consider are your:

  • Location

  • Experience

  • Education

  • Industry

As you assess whether your salary is “good” compared to your peers—or if you are trying to determine a fair salary to ask for with your employer—you’ll typically want to consider each of these factors together.

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Location

Your cost of living will vary depending on where you live, meaning the same exact lifestyle can cost more or less money in different locations. If you live in a location with a high cost of living, you’ll require a higher salary than you would in a location with a lower cost of living to afford the same lifestyle.

Because the cost of living varies by location, what’s considered a good salary can also vary by location.

Median US salary by location

Here are the median salaries across all occupations in various US metropolitan areas, according to the BLS [2]:

LocationMedian salary
Atlanta, Georgia$59,100
Austin, Texas$60,260
Boise, Idaho$49,440
Chicago, Illinois$61,860
Las Vegas, Nevada$50,360
Miami, Florida$54,790
Nashville, Tennessee$53,730
New York, NY$74,150
Phoenix, Arizona$56,610
San Francisco, California$86,590
Seattle, Washington$76,170
Washington, D.C.$80,480

Experience

With experience, you’ll often earn more money than you did at the start of your career, thanks to new skills you’ve gained and the expertise you’ve honed. Perhaps your experience level will be reflected in a higher job title or greater responsibilities.

Median US salary by age

One simplified way to assess salary by experience is to look at the average salary across various age groups, with the assumption that people who are older will tend to have more work experience than those who are younger.

Here are the estimated median salaries of US employees by age, calculated using data from the BLS [3]:

AgeEstimated salary
16-24 years$35,620
25-34 years$50,752
35-44 years$61,360
45-54 years$61,412
55-64 years$58,968
65+ years$53,196

Median US salary by education level

Another way to gauge experience may be by education level. Furthering your education is often seen as one way to exemplify skills and knowledge in your field, typically leading to higher salaries. For example, teachers may qualify for a higher salary once they’ve earned their master's. (Note, however, that different fields tend to have different educational standards and requirements.)

Here are the estimated median salaries of US employees by education level, calculated using data from the BLS [4]:

Highest education levelEstimated salary
High school$42,068
Associate degree$50,076
Bachelor’s degree$69,368
Master’s degree$81,848
Doctoral degree$99,268

Industry

Certain industries tend to be more lucrative than others, so your industry can be a significant determining factor in how much money you make. Similarly, your salary can fluctuate depending on your specific role within your industry. 

Median US salary by industry

Here are the median salaries across all occupations in various industries in the US, according to the BLS [5]:

IndustryMedian salary
Agriculture$37,210
Construction$61,010
Information$91,930
Finance$81,420
Real estate$54,400
Science and tech$91,150
Education$61,620
Health care$60,070

How to do salary research

There are several tools that aggregate data from current employees and employers in various locations and across all experience levels and industries to determine a specific fair market value for any given position. As you conduct salary research, use tools such as LinkedIn Salary, Glassdoor, or Payscale to estimate what other people in situations similar to yours are making.

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Determining what a good salary is for you

Typically, your bottom line isn’t dependent upon your location, experience, and industry. Rather, there are times when you want to first consider your salary needs and then find a job that will fulfill those needs.

To determine your ideal budget, make a list of your living expenses and lifestyle desires. Some items that may make it into your budget include:

  • Housing

  • Groceries

  • Car payments

  • Education

  • Entertainment

  • Long-term savings

You can work with a weekly, monthly, or annual budget, and then use that to determine what a good salary would be for you.

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Ways to increase your salary

There are typically ways to increase your salary to better align with your financial goals. Here are some ideas to get started:

1. Expand your skill set.

As you gain new skills or strengthen your current skills, you may find that you qualify for more advanced positions. Consider taking an online course, volunteering for a new project, or earning a certification to showcase your skills.

Read more: 7 High-Income Skills Worth Learning

2. Switch to a higher paying industry.

Since certain industries tend to pay better than others, you may be able to earn more money if you move into a new industry or job function. You likely already have several transferable skills that show your qualifications.

Read more: 10 Remote Work-From-Home Jobs that Pay Well

3. Ask your employer for more.

As you conduct salary research, you may notice that you aren’t earning the expected market value. Asking your employer for a raise—or, if appropriate, a promotion—can be one way to ensure fair compensation.

Read more: How to Ask for a Promotion: A Step-By-Step Guide

4. Incorporate alternative income streams.

You may consider starting a side hustle or creating a passive income stream. Both options can increase your overall income—however, they also require some additional work.

Read more: 11 Side Hustles from Home and How to Get Started

Getting started

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “May 2021 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#00-0000.” Accessed September 15, 2022.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “May 2021 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcma.htm.” Accessed September 15, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by age, race, Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, and sex, second quarter 2022 averages, not seasonally adjusted, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/wkyeng.t03.htm.” Accessed September 15, 2022.

4. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Data on display: Education pays, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2022/data-on-display/education-pays.htm.” Accessed September 15, 2022.

5. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “May 2021 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrci.htm.” Accessed September 15, 2022.

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