What Is a Percentile Salary?

Salary statistics help students select potential careers and allow job seekers to evaluate the fairness of wages offered for new positions. Statistics also help employers determine what to pay their employees. Among the different types of wage statistics reported by government agencies are percentile salaries, which tell the wage rates for certain percentages of workforces.


A percentile salary tells how much a certain percentage of an overall population in a geographic area or withing a given industry or field makes. The most commonly-used percentile salaries are the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentiles. As an example, if the 10th percentile wage for a job was $10,000 annually, 10 percent of the people made $10,000 per year, while the remaining 90 percent made more than $10,000. Percentile salaries are usually annual figures, though they can also be reported as hourly wages.

Median Vs. Mean

The 50th percentile salary is also known as the median salary. Half of the population, industry or occupation represented in a group of salary statistics make less than the median while the other half makes more than the median. Sometimes people incorrectly use the terms median salary with the term mean salary. The mean salary tells how much the average worker in a given area or field makes. The amount is calculated by taking the sum of all the salaries reported in the sample and dividing it by the number of salaries that were reported. The mean tells you how much you can expect to earn as an average worker in a field, not what percentage of workers make more or less than a certain amount of money.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the primary reporting agency for percentile salaries in the U.S. The BLS develops annual reports for the percentile salaries in all major industries and occupations in the U.S. In addition, the BLS determines the percentile salaries for all of the states, territories and major metropolitan and non-metropolitan regions of the U.S. State governments may calculate their own percentile salaries based on different regions, such as by county. Often states' departments of labor handle percentile salary reporting.

US Percentile Wages

As of May 2010, the overall 10th percentile salary among all Americans was $17,690 per year, according to the BLS. The 25th percentile salaries in the U.S. were $22,150 per year. At the 75th percentile, salaries for Americans were $54,250 per year. The annual 90th percentile salary rate was $83,140. The 50th percentile or median salary for all jobs in the U.S. was $33,840 per year. By comparison, the mean salary in the U.S. was $44,410 per year.