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Whether you’re a university student thinking about future employment, or a working professional contemplating a career change, many factors will be at play when you pick a job.
But one detail can be particularly important: Which career makes the most money?
The right job for you depends on much more than just salary. But, that said, earning potential is likely to be a key concern, especially if you’ve invested time and money in higher education.
So, what are the highest-paying jobs in the UK?
We’ve used data from the Office For National Statistics’ Annual Survey for Hours and Earnings (ASHE), which was published in November 2023, and includes detailed information about the working population and pay, to discover more about top paying jobs and salaries.
To understand how the highest-paying jobs fit into the overall employment market, here are some facts about work and pay (sources: Census data 2021, ONS ASHE 2023):
- According to the latest census data (March 2021) 37.5 million people in England and Wales are of working age (18 to 64), that’s 62.9% of the population. And of those in the population over the age of 16, 29.4 million were recorded as being in work (economically active)
- The median weekly earnings for full-time employees was £682 in April 2023, which is a 6.2% increase over the £642 in April 2022; this is the highest growth since comparable records began in 1997
- The highest-earning employees are concentrated in managerial and professional occupations, and are aged between 35 and 49 years. There are concentrations of higher pay in the information technology, communications, finance and insurance service industries
- Men are more likely to be high paid than women (27.7% compared to 19.1%)
- Full time workers are more likely to be high paid than part-time employees (27.4% versus 12.5%).
* The median average is found by ordering all pay from lowest to highest and finding the exact middle value. It is the ONS’ preferred measure of average earnings, as it is less affected by a relatively small number of very high earners than the mean average.
Average pay in the UK
In December 2023 the ONS revealed that the increase in average employee wages was recorded at 7.3% for the three month period of August to October. It means the growth in wages is running higher than the rate of inflation (currently 5.7%).
The median average weekly pay of full-time workers was recorded at £682 in April 2023 (the latest data from the ONS), and the median gross (before tax) annual earnings for full-time employees is £34,963. This is a 5.8% increase on the £33,061 average recorded in April 2022.
Part-time median pay was recorded at £241 in April 2023, which equates to an annual pre-tax salary of £12,527. This is a 5.5% increase on the previous year.
The median average hourly rate of pay is £15.88. This is in contrast to the Minimum Living Wage of £10.42 a year, although this is set to rise to £11.44 an hour from April 2024. Eligibility for MLW will also be extended from 23 to 21. National Minimum Wage (for workers 18-20) will get a £1.11 hourly increase to £8.60 per hour from next April.
The ONS uses median average values in its ASHE report. The median average is calculated by ordering all pay from lowest to highest and finding the exact middle value. Full time work is classed as working 30 paid hours per week or more (25 hours for teachers).
Average weekly income
Average pay and gender
Median average pay varies between the sexes. Median weekly earnings for all men (full-time and part-time) increased by 6.8% from £623 in April 2022 to £666 in April 2023 and for all women by 9.1% from £450 to £491.
Men were also found to be more likely to be higher earners than women. There are many factors which contribute to this, but in particular, men are less likely to take time out of the workplace than women, on average, to take up caring responsibilities, such as looking after children or elderly relatives.
Average income for men and women
Average pay and age
The age of workers has a large bearing on how much they earn, or their likelihood of being high earners.
Average salaries vary widely by age with full-time workers aged between 40 and 49 having the highest average salaries (£39,491 gross per year recorded in April 2023). This compares to average full-time salaries of £29,120 for those aged between 22 and 29 for example – more than £10,000 less each year than those in the older age category.
Median average full-time pay by age:
- 18-21: £20,437
- 22-29: £29.120
- 30-39: £36,405
- 40-49: £39,491
- 50-59: £36,834
- 60+: £32,530
What constitutes ‘high pay’?
Around one in five workers (23%) are classed as being in high paid jobs, according to the latest ONS data. Although this has fallen marginally, from 24% in 2022 and the 25-year high of 26.9% in 2011.
High pay in this instance is calculated as receiving at least an hourly rate of pay that is one and a half times that of the median average.
As median average hourly pay (across both full-time and part-time pay) is £15.88 it means high pay would be classed as £23.82 per hour. This equates to pay of £833 per week for a full-time worker (based on 35 hours), equivalent to an annual gross salary of £43,352.
What are the highest paying jobs?
It is perhaps unsurprising that the highest paid workers in the UK are chief executives and senior officials, who were recorded as earning an annual salary of £84,131, on average in April 2023, according to ONS data. This is 164% above the national median average annual full-time pay (£31,813).
Chief executive pay is closely followed by marketing, sales and advertising directors, information technology directors, and those working in senior and managerial roles in communication and public relations. Directors in logistics and warehouse management also earn much higher salaries than the median average.
Interestingly, senior medical specialists and practitioners, head teachers, barristers and senior lawyers, architects and actuaries, all professions which require many years of study and training, all come lower down the list than those of corporate directors.
Top 10 jobs with the highest average pay
Tips to getting a high paying job
Getting into a highly paid career is likely to take many years of study, training or work experience, or most likely a combination of all three.
As a general rule the more experience and skills you have in a particular field or role the more you’ll be paid. This is one of the main reasons for the highest median pay falling in the older age categories, typically those aged 40 to 59.
Whether you’re just starting out on a chosen career path, or you already have a number of years of work under your belt, there are a range of useful things you can do to boost your earning potential.
Have a plan
It’s important to have a career plan to clarify where you want to be in five or 10 years’ time, and what you’ll need to do, in terms of training, qualifications and experience, to get there.
Enlist the help of a mentor or coach where possible, perhaps a trusted senior colleague in your workplace, to discuss your goals and ambitions and a realistic plan of action.
Skills, training and experience
The more skills and experience you can gain the more likely you’ll be promoted or hired for more senior positions in new companies and organisations, boosting your salary in the process.
While this can take time and money, particularly if you’re shelling out for your own training courses and qualifications, it can be an excellent investment in your future earning power.
If you’re going to fund your own pilot training, for example, estimates suggest this could cost around £130,000 and it could take up to two years. But the ONS data shows the median average annual gross salary for a pilot is £71,676.
If you’re an employee, ask your employer what on-the-job training it can offer, or if there are any in-house programmes that will enable you to gain new skills.
For some roles and professions it will be important to improve your skills in a specific field or area so you can become an expert. For IT professionals, such as software developers, a bootcamp or tailored course could be valuable. Fine tuning your expertise is a great way to increase your chances of finding new roles.
Gaining general workplace skills, such as management, leadership, and IT knowledge can also be important as you progress in your career. Experience and skills in these areas can help you stand out when applying for a new job.
Do your research
Find out the average salaries for the roles you’re interested in, and at different levels. This can help when it comes to applying for a promotion or when moving to a new employer. Recruitment websites, such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn, and trade bodies can often help with finding out salary information.
Actively looking for new roles and being prepared to move can be a good way to boost your pay, depending on your particular field of work.
Bear in mind that the job location will often affect salary: are you prepared to move to a new area to earn a bigger pay packet? Remember to balance any increase in pay with the potential higher housing and transport costs in some cities, such as London, for example.