The vast majority of engineers working for Chinese fabless chip companies earn less than $50,000 per year, according to a recent survey conducted by EE Times China, a statistic that illustrates the continued discrepancy between Chinese semiconductor industry workers and their higher-paid counterparts in the West.

Only about 7% of respondents to the engineer portion of the 18th annual China Fabless Survey indicated that they earn more than 2,801 Chinese yuan per month, the equivalent of about $50,000 per year at current exchange rates.

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Two-thirds of survey respondents indicated that they earn the equivalent of less than $25,000 per year, and nearly half of all respondents indicated that they earn less than $20,000 per year.

Estimates for semiconductor industry salaries in the U.S. vary, but experienced semiconductor industry engineers generally command salaries well above $100,000 per year. According to the most recent IEEE-USA salary survey, IEEE members in the U.S. working full-time in their primary area of technology competency had a median pre-tax income of $145,000 in 2017.

Among the highest-paid respondents to the 2019 China Fabless survey, the 7% of respondents who earn more than $50,000 per year are mainly employed above the chief engineer level or work as R&D supervisors at large companies. The 30% of respondents who indicated that they earn between $14,000 and $20,000 per year are mostly junior R&D engineers or product managers, mainly distributed through the most well-known semiconductor companies in China.

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Nearly 87% of respondents indicated that they love their job. (Source: EE Times China, 2019 China Fabless Survey)

Nearly 28% of China Fabless Survey respondents said that they received raises of between 16% and 20% last year, while 23% of respondents got raises of between 11% and 15%. About 20% of respondents got raises of greater than 20% last year.

The 18th annual China Fabless Survey was conducted from late December to late February. For the first time, the survey was divided into two portions, with one questionnaire for company management and a second questionnaire for engineers. The results of the engineering portion of the survey were compiled from 2,600 valid email and online responses.

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Slightly more than 40% of respondents said that they have a Ph.D. (Source: EE Times China, 2019 China Fabless Survey)

The China Fabless Survey found that the 40-nm node is the most common among Chinese analog chip companies, while the 65- and 55-nm nodes commonly used in traditional analog chips continue to have a large market. About 11% of respondents indicated that they were designing analog at the 28-nm node.

The survey indicated that the 16-/14-nm and 28-nm nodes are the most mainstream for digital ICs designed in China.

Other highlights from the engineer portion of the 2019 China Fabless Survey included:

  • More than half of the respondents to the survey selected verification and simulation as the biggest difficulty in the R&D process.

  • About 40% of respondents indicated that they have a Ph.D. Most of the respondents with Ph.D.s work in large joint venture companies and research institutes.

  • Nearly half of respondents have more than 10 years of work experience.


— Luffy Liu is associate chief analyst at EE Times China.

— Dylan McGrath contributed to this report from San Francisco.