Highest-Paying Jobs in California

A Credit Karma Study

Updated

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Salaries for some of the highest-paying jobs in California  give new meaning to the term “Golden State.” All five of California’s highest-paying jobs have annual salaries in excess of $300,000. But each of these jobs is a specialist doctor position in the healthcare industry — which entails years of undergraduate and medical school education. Still, California has dozens of other high-paying jobs that lay outside the realm of healthcare.

To identify these jobs and create a complete list of the highest-paying jobs in every state, Credit Karma compiled and analyzed a variety of recently available datasets from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here are the five highest-paying jobs in California.

  • Surgeons: $351,580
  • Physicians/pathologists: $350,980
  • Radiologists: $345,100
  • Cardiologists: $343,370
  • Anesthesiologists: $318,030

While all of the above are healthcare occupations, other high-paying jobs outside of healthcare exist in California. Read on for more details.

Highest-paying jobs in California

In California, as in almost every single state, specialized healthcare jobs dominate the top five highest-paying jobs in the state. But there are plenty of high-paying jobs outside of the healthcare field to be found in California. Here are the top-paying jobs in each of the BLS’s major occupational groups, in order of their average annual wage.

Major occupational group Occupation title Annual mean wage
Healthcare practitioners and technical Surgeons (excluding oral/maxillofacial surgeons) $351,580
Management Chief executives $230,730
Transportation and material moving Airline pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers $227,870
Legal Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates $206,790
Life, physical, and social science  Animal scientists $177,430
Architecture and engineering occupations Computer hardware engineers $169,970
Educational instruction and library Economics teachers, postsecondary $165,280
Installation, maintenance and repair Commercial divers $161,210
Protective service First-line supervisors of police and detectives $150,760
Computer and mathematical Software developers $146,770
Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media Art directors $144,000
Personal care and service occupations Makeup artists, theatrical and performance $136,340
Sales and related Sales engineers $136,120
Business and financial operations Agents and business managers of artists, performers, and athletes $130,930
Construction and extraction Elevator and escalator installers and repairers $112,530
Production Power distributors and dispatchers $107,600
Community and social service Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists $94,650
Office and administrative support  Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants $75,230
Healthcare support Occupational therapy assistants $75,080
Farming, fishing and forestry Fallers $73,490
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance First-line supervisors of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers $61,000
Food preparation and serving Chefs and head cooks $60,670

Several of California’s highest-paying jobs are common across many other U.S. states. For example, in 20 states, the highest-paying legal job is judges, magistrate judges and magistrates, as in California. For highest-paying law enforcement jobs, first-line supervisors of police and detectives earn the most in California — this is also the best-paying police job in 33 other states. And in California, this law enforcement career pays much better than the national average — $150,760 in California versus $98,760 nationally.

Other notable high-paying jobs in California

Here are some less-common jobs that made the list of the highest-paying jobs in California.

  • Animal scientists — California is the only state in which animal scientists are the highest-paying job in the “life, physical, and social science” occupations group, with an average pay of $177,430 versus a national average of $80,390.
  • Fallers — These professionals use chainsaws or axes to cut down trees, ensuring controlled direction of the trees falling and minimizing damage to the trees themselves. In California, fallers earn an average annual pay of $73,490. California is one of only seven states where this is the highest-earning job in the “farming, fishing and forestry” occupations group.
  • Makeup artists, theatrical and performance — California’s entertainment industry likely accounts for this job’s comparatively excellent annual pay of $136,340 in the state. California is also only one of two states where this is the highest-paying job in the “personal care and service” occupations category, along with New York.
  • Power distributors and dispatchers — These employees coordinate, regulate and distribute electrical or steam power.
  • Elevator and escalator installers and repairers — These workers assemble, install, repair and maintain elevators and escalators. California’s average annual wage of $112,530 is better than the national average $91,320.

High-paying jobs and cost of living in California

When considering California’s salaries, it’s crucial to keep in mind the state’s notoriously high cost of living. Based on another Credit Karma study, The Cheapest States to Live In, California came in as the third-most expensive state to live in. Its overall cost-of-living index score from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center is 139.7, well above the baseline of 100.

So while California boasts plenty of high-paying careers and jobs, likely a larger portion of that pay goes toward the state’s above-average cost of living, especially when it comes to housing.

Jobs in certain industries or occupational types, like healthcare careers or jobs in management may help to offset the higher cost of living in California. Legal occupations and computer and mathematical occupations also boast higher average salaries than other industries in California.

Methodology

To identify the highest-paying jobs in California, we analyzed all U.S. states, then scored and ranked them based on the following criteria:

  • Annual mean wage for occupations, with occupations chosen based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Standard Occupational Classification that categorizes an occupational level as “detailed.” Other SOC occupation levels such as “major,” “minor” and “broad” were excluded for being too general in their occupational title.
  • Hourly mean wage for occupations, with occupations chosen based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Standard Occupational Classification that categorizes an occupational level as “detailed.” Other SOC occupation levels such as “major,” “minor” and “broad” were excluded for being too general in their occupational title.

Sources

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Employment Statistics – May 2021