The current issue of the American Translators Association‘s Chronicle includes an article on the results of the most recent ATA compensation survey, which uses data gathered for the year 2006. The survey is interesting enough that I’m thinking of purchasing the full report ($45 for ATA members, $65 for nonmembers), but even the summary that appears in the Chronicle contains some really useful information.
When taking a look at the results, it’s important to remember that this represents a very compartmentalized snapshot of the translation profession; 979 out of 8,700 people who received the survey responded (ATA’s current membership is about 10,000) and the ATA is certainly not representative of all working translators, even within the U.S.
That being said, I found that some of the statistics corroborated my own theories about trends in the industry, while others really surprised me. For example, my own hunch about the level of education required to enter the translation industry turned out to be correct: only about 7% of the survey’s respondents have less than a Bachelor’s degree (so much for Parade magazine’s touting translation as a “no college degree required” profession!) and over half have a Master’s or higher.
I was surprised by how much the average full-time freelancer’s income has risen (to slightly over $60,000, a figure that I think is quite achievable by translators who have excellent language skills and are willing to market aggressively), but also by the fact that translation company owners earn an average of slightly over $67,000, which seemed low to me when offset by the added responsibility and constraints of running an agency.
The highest and lowest-paid language combinations were also interesting; English>Arabic and English>Danish topped the list, while English>Italian and English>Portuguese came in last when ranked by per-word rate, and Chinese>English and English>Chinese commanded the highest hourly rates.
In addition to the yearly average earnings that the compensation survey cites, I would be interested to know how those earnings break down in terms of the hours that the individual works each year. For example, when looking at the average earnings of full-time in house and freelance translators (approximately equal, with in-house translators earning a little below 60K and freelancers a little above 60K), my assumption is often that the in-house translator has to work more hours for essentially the same money. Admittedly, this is based on my own tendency to take at least four completely work-free weeks of vacation each year and at least two additional weeks where I might work a couple of hours a day. In addition, my average work week is probably closer to 30 hours rather than the 45 or 50 that most in-house employees are probably working.
However, it’s likely that many freelancers work that much, say 2,000 hours a year or more, which then makes the in-house and freelance earnings figures much more comparable. It’s an interesting topic, and I’m looking forward to learning more from the full report.