Salaries for Applied Behavior Analysts

As students of the science of learning and behavior, applied behavior analysts help us better understand how human behavior works. They look at how environment and outside stimuli affect how people behave, and all the many factors and motivations that contribute to problem behaviors. All of the tireless research and thoughtful observation that goes into understanding human behavior is done with one goal in mind: to teach clients to respond differently to their environment and adopt new, constructive behaviors.

In 2019, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) published a report on how the field took off like a rocket in the previous decade, highlighting the growing demand for the vital therapies behavior analysts provide, and the exponential job growth that was seen as that demand was being met.

And by exponential, we literally mean exponential. According to the report, from 2010 to 2018, the number of jobs for behavior analysts holding the flagship BCBA and BCBA-D credentials increased by a mind-boggling 1,942%. In the one-year period from 2017 to 2018 alone, the number of credentialed ABAs increased by 127%. These numbers tell the story of a profession that is on fire with intense demand and lightning fast growth, and all for one reason – because the therapy works to effectively mitigate and eliminate problem behaviors while promoting positive ones.

Every state is reporting strong growth, with California, Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, and Arizona leading the pack. These states alone accounted for 53% of the recent demand for behavior analysts, with California taking the first place slot with a 31% increase in demand year-over-year.

As you might expect, the demand for behavior analysts has largely tracked with the increase in autism diagnosis rates. As of 2020, about one in 54 children receive an autism diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—a considerable increase over the rate of one in every 150 children in 2000.

And not surprisingly, with all this demand comes a situation where the schools, independent clinics and public health agencies that provide ABA services are competing for talented ABAs to join their teams, which means starting salary offers are higher than ever.

Respect and Recognition of ABA Therapy Translates into Increased Demand and Salary Potential

The number of Americans with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has increased tenfold over the past two generations, and today, there are more than 3 million Americans living with the disorder. While the work of applied behavior analysts extends into many areas and is used as a treatment for a variety of developmental disorders, it’s been used in the treatment of autism since the 1960s and is now highly regarded in the ASD community where it’s universally recognized as the only evidence-based treatment for autism spectrum disorder.

It’s a field that continues to evolve, but also one that has already established itself on very solid ground. With countless studies attesting to its efficacy, it’s a form of therapy fully endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General and organizations like the American Psychological Association, National Institute of Mental Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Neurology.

As the reputation of the field builds on the evidence coming out of empirical studies, the list of behavioral issues it’s used to address is expanding. And right along with that, ABAs are finding more opportunities and more earning power than ever before.

According to 2020 stats from PayScale, behavior analysts earn an average salary of $61,070. Thanks to annual bonuses averaging $1,495, total compensation for these behavioral professionals is about $62,565.  In the top 10%, they’re earning an average of $77,000.

Qualifications for behavior analysts tend to be fairly consistent across the board, with most states requiring a master’s degree and BCBA or BCBA-D certification as a basis for that licensure. Even among states without licensing laws, you can expect state insurance laws to include language requiring a master’s level education and the BCBA/BCBA-D designation.

Because of these fairly standardized practice requirements, salary expectations in this profession aren’t generally based on educational qualifications and professional certification alone. Instead, you’ll find salary differences based on the number of years in the field, employment setting, and of course what part of the country you’re in.

PayScale shows that behavior analysts working for some of the big names in autism research and treatment earn average salaries that consistently beat out the national average. For example, behavior analysts with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, which offer cutting-edge autism services at 235 locations in 27 states, earn an average salary of $67,177, according to 2020 PayScale numbers. Earning power is even greater among behavior analysts who rise through the ranks and earn the title of clinical director/manager.

Experience in the field of ABA is valuable. According to PayScale, mid-career behavior analysts can expect a pay bump of about 3%-9% over entry-level peers, while late-career pros earn about 16% more.

  • Less than one year experience: $55,000 average salary
  • 1-4 years’ experience: $59,000
  • 5-9 years’ experience: $63,000
  • 10-19 years’ experience: $67,000
  • 20+ years’ experience: $71,000

As expected, salaries for behavior analysts are largely dependent on geographic location, largely due to cost of living differences.

For example, behavior analysts in San Diego earn about 9% more than the national average, those in Boston earn about 7% more, and those in Miami earn about 6% more.

Earning Potential Only Goes Up for ABAs Who Go Indie

And if your career aspirations include branching out on our own and starting your own practice, complete with a full staff of BCaBAs and RBTs, you’ll be well-positioned to bring in an income that far exceeds what any employer would pay. This isn’t a pipe dream, it’s actually a pretty standard model for building a successful practice in the field.

And whether or not you have those sorts of ambitions, offering your services as an independent behavior therapist is not unusual at all, thanks to the strong demand for ABA services. There’s no reliable reporting on what independent practitioners and business owners earn, but you can extrapolate based on what people are paying for ABA services and what health insurers are reimbursing. Hourly rates approaching $100 are not uncommon, and certain boutique practices charge even more for in-home services. The need for ABA services outstrips what the current number of practitioners in most markets can keep up with, a situation that has naturally bid-up the going rate, and people are more than happy to pay it.

Not only does independent practice offer the chance to earn far more than you would working for someone else, but it also offers the flexibility and freedom that come with making your own schedule.

Salaries for Applied Behavior Analysts: The Major Metro Areas Where Behavior Analysts Are in Highest Demand and Earning the Most

Earn a grad degree and the BCBA, the profession’s flagship credential, and land a job in a major metro area and you can expect to earn far more than the average salary among applied behavior analysts – about $20,000 more annually, in most cases. And in some metro areas, it’s not uncommon for average salaries for BCBAs to inch toward six figures.

ZipRecruiter, a leading online employment marketplace, provided the following average salaries for BCBAs (as of September 2020) using current salaries gathered from the more than seven million jobs posted daily on the site.

The following average salaries for each state’s largest city were calculated using only those jobs that require the BCBA or BCBA-D credential:

  • Birmingham, Alabama: $76,625
  • Anchorage, Alaska: $90,384
  • Phoenix, Arizona: $84,236
  • Little Rock, Arkansas: $78,832
  • Los Angeles, California: $92,683
  • Denver, Colorado: $88,194
  • Bridgeport, Connecticut: $90,160
  • Wilmington, Delaware: $87,154
  • District of Columbia: $94,443
  • Jacksonville, Florida: $81,807
  • Atlanta, Georgia: $87,718
  • Honolulu, Hawaii: $85,823
  • Boise, Idaho: $78,701
  • Chicago, Illinois: $89,608
  • Indianapolis, Indiana: $83,936
  • Des Moines, Iowa: $87,535
  • Wichita, Kansas: $78,099
  • Louisville, Kentucky: $82,875
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: $83,396
  • Portland, Maine: $87,396
  • Baltimore, Maryland: $88,989
  • Boston, Massachusetts: $94,562
  • Detroit, Michigan: $86,990
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: $89,629
  • Jackson, Mississippi: $84,694
  • Kansas City, Missouri: $84,728
  • Billings, Montana: $86,750
  • Omaha, Nebraska: $82,527
  • Las Vegas, Nevada: $82,732
  • Manchester, New Hampshire: $85,691
  • Newark, New Jersey: $90,603
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: $78,661
  • New York City, New York: $96,014
  • Charlotte, North Carolina: $84,546
  • Fargo, North Dakota: $87,383
  • Columbus, Ohio: $84,904
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: $80,529
  • Portland, Oregon: $87,396
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: $87,321
  • Providence, Rhode Island: $87,498
  • Charleston, South Carolina: $82,396
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota: $84,175
  • Nashville, Tennessee $85,067
  • Houston, Texas: $86,732
  • Salt Lake City, Utah: $87,535
  • Burlington, Vermont: $86,143
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia: $80,517
  • Seattle, Washington: $95,029
  • Charleston, West Virginia: $82,396
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: $86,358
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming: $85,141

Salary and employment data compiled by PayScale in August 2020. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which behavior analysts work. PayScale salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. 

Salary and employment data compiled by ZipRecruiter in September 2020. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which behavior analysts work. ZipRecruiter salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. 

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