The 2016 pre-tax median income – meaning half of all workers earned more than this amount and half earned less – for a full-time worker in Switzerland was up 5.1 percent on 2014, according to preliminary figures released on Monday by the Swiss Federal Statistics Office (FSO).
The Swiss Earnings Structure Survey 2016 shows the median income for the top ten percent of earners (11,406 francs a month before tax) rose 6.3 percent from 2008 to 2016 while the equivalent rise for the bottom 10 percent of earners was 9.9 percent.
For middle-class earners, defined as people earning from 70–150 percent of the median salary, this rise was 6.9 percent from 2008 to 2016.
Wage inequality remained stable from 2008 to 2016: the median salary of the top 10 percent of earners was 2.7 higher than that of the bottom 10 percent in 2008. In 2016, this gap had closed very slightly to 2.6 times.
The best-paid industries
The highest median salary in 2016 was in the pharmaceutical industry (9,835 francs a month – a rise of ten percent since 2010), followed by finance and banking (9,742 francs) and management consulting (9,616 francs).
At the other end of the scale were personnel and HR services (4,076 francs a month), hospitality (4,332 francs) and retail (4,798 francs).
Gender pay gap
The median salary of women was 12 percent lower than that of men in 2016, down from 12.5 percent in 2014, although the FSO did note a part of this divide could be explained by the different duties carried out by women in the workplace, differing levels of responsibility from men, and wage differences between industries.
But the FSO also noted that the median salary for women in a position with a high level of responsibility was 8,861 francs a month in 2016 against 10,878 francs for men in an equivalent position – a difference of 18.5 percent. The salary difference between men and women in positions without responsibility was a lower 10.5 percent.
In high-paying industries, the difference between the median salary for men and women is especially marked. In insurance this gap is 31.3 percent, in banking and finance it is 30.1 percent and in management consulting it is 26.8 percent.
The median salary is highest in the Zurich region (6,869 francs a month) followed by north-western Switzerland (6,700 francs) and the Lake Geneva region (6,591 francs). At the bottom of the table is Ticino where the median salary for a full-time position is 5,563 francs.
Taken as a whole, foreign employees in Switzerland have a lower median salary (5,893 francs a month) than Swiss workers (6,808 francs). However foreign workers in positions of greater responsibility earn more than their Swiss counterparts. For cross-border commuters, this salary is 10,750 francs against 10,136 francs for Swiss employees. And for foreign workers with a Swiss residency permit, the equivalent salary is even higher at 12,746 francs a month before tax.
High cost of living
Despite Switzerland's high median salary, it must also be noted that living costs are also very high: Zurich and Geneva regularly make into the top ten in the Economist Intelligence Unit 's Worldwide Cost of Living survey which compares more than 400 individual prices across 160 products and services including food and drink, clothing, rents, transport, utility bills and recreation costs.
Eurostat figures from 2017 also show that consumer prices in Switzerland were 61 percent above European Union averages while prices for food and non-alcoholic drinks were 72 percent above the EU average.
Poverty also remains an issue in the country with the FSO recently publishing data showing 615,000 Swiss people lived in poverty in 2016.
In total 7.5 percent of Swiss people lived below the poverty threshold in that year, up from 7 percent in 2015 and 6.7 percent in 2014.
Poverty was defined by the FSO as an income of less than 2,247 francs a month for people living alone and 3,981 francs for a household comprising two adults and two children under 14.