The idealism wage gap

Idealism wage gap

In a career workshop, we discuss how personal values influence career choices. Whether idealism can or even has to be a selection criterion stirs tempers. “I don’t want to work on marginal improvements in lifestyle products for any money in the world,” Rodrigo proclaims. “Well, if you work for an NGO, you just have to stay in your shared apartment,” Karsten replies mockingly. “Is that really the case?” Frederieke asks, “The more idealistic a job is, the worse it pays?”

"Is that really the case?" Frederieke asks, "The more idealistic a job is, the worse it pays?"

As is so often the case, the answer is yes and no. The best-paid jobs are where a lot of money is made, such as in large corporations. These organisations aim to earn as much money as possible, which is even an obligation for public companies. Does that make these jobs less idealistic? Certainly not always. If work there contributes to making processes more effective and thus usually more sustainable, that can very well be a positive contribution.

Sometimes chemists can influence the topic they are working on. One lever is the shortage of skilled workers, which is slowly arriving in the life sciences and chemistry. Your workforce fills a gap. It is up to you which employer you choose: improve shampoos at X or switch to sustainable raw material sources at Y.

NGOs tend to have less money than corporations and are bound by their statutes not to pay exorbitant salaries. That doesn’t mean, however, that all activities in the non-profit sector are poorly paid. Salaries in international organisations can undoubtedly keep up with the industry.

“With a degree in chemistry, you’re in a luxury position,” I summarise the discussion. Even moderate salaries allow you to move out of the shared flat and start a family. You can decide where and how you want to work without financial hardship. You can make a difference in socially relevant issues with your career choice and your commitment at work.


This article was first published in Nachrichten aus der Chemie (issue 04-2023). See here the German original.

If you want to learn more about career options, you can look through our career workshops and talks. Our talk Graduated and now? – A look at career options deals with career options and can answer the questions raised in this career column. 

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