July 30, 2013

Masseuse Salary? Let’s Get Rid of All the Confusion

How much should you expect to make as a masseuse, knowing that:

1. Available salary data do not clarify whether hourly and yearly averages take into account the fact that masseuses do not have the typical 40-hour workweek, as discussed in my previous article, “The 25-Hour Workweek of Masseuses as Related to Salary“;

2. Tipping is extensively practiced in the industry. Are tips already factored into those average salary numbers?;

3. “Salary” pertains to the income of employed masseuses, yet an overwhelming percentage of masseuses are self-employed. Is this taken into account as well?; and

4. Masseuse salaries vary greatly per location. Do these averages even matter?


To do away with all this confusion, I wrote a series of articles addressing the issues mentioned, which you can read through the links on the right. But let’s start with the first one.


As to how much is an average masseuse’s salary, we are going to base the answer on the actual experiences of professionals in this field, according to surveys. Then we will compare it with calculations based on the ongoing massage rates and what’s possible for self-employed therapists.

On the internet, there are plenty of answers to a vast variety of questions. When it comes to salary information, there are a number of private authoritative sources that you can go to, such as Salary.com and Payscale.com.


You may notice that salary estimates are not the same. Some websites are irresponsible in providing data, not explaining at all where or how they get their information. They do not also inform the reader that most practitioners in the field are self-employed, which is very important to note.

Since the survey information available on the web pertain to massage therapists’ salary, the data that you will find apply only to employed therapists.

The term “salary” inherently excludes the incomes of massage practitioners in private practice, so surveys do not necessarily reflect the incomes of massage therapists in general.


Salary surveys are mainly conducted among employers. One reason for this is that it’s easier and more accurate to survey the employers rather than the workers.


In the case of massage therapists, it’s also better because massage practitioners work in so many different settings and capacities.


For a new massage therapist, being employed is the better course to take, since it is difficult and risky to venture into an untested market without having some valuable experience first.


Most newbies, anyway, take the same course of action. So if you are new to massage therapy, you better know what the average salary is because you will most probably start out being employed.


Now let’s find out how much that really is.


As I said previously, there are varied sorts of data about salary. So don’t be surprised, or better yet, don’t be confused, if there are ridiculous claims about the salary of massage therapists.


There is for instance, a website that will tell you that the median salary of massage therapists is almost $60,000 per year. However, it’s a site that asks you to find a school of massage to enroll into and encourages you to become a massage professional so that they will get a commission from the schools.


Another source states that MT’s make $73,000 a year on average, but no actual survey supports it.


Most of the others you will find on the internet report an annual salary of $40,000 more or less, and among them is a major website that specializes on salary data. Sadly, the information they provide are thin and inaccurate. Payscale.com is one of only two privately funded websites that provide original survey data. Of the two, it has a more impressive methodology. However, the sample size upon which they based their survey results regarding massage therapists is only 54, not really the most reliable number out there.


{Median salary: the point below and above which equal numbers of salary values are located, that is, 50% of massage therapists in a survey earned more than the amount indicated, while 50% earn less than it.}


Of all, the annual occupational wage report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is without a doubt the most statistically accurate. The number of respondents is enough to reflect American massage therapists’ salaries in general, and the methodology used is such that the results are proportionate to workers’ populations in different locations.


The latest report of the Bureau (2010) suggests that massage therapists in the United States earn an average of $39,770 a year (or $19.12 per hour), with several states such as Alaska and Delaware having the highest salaries for massage therapists ($86,250 and $57,830, respectively).


But what does this mean? Does it mean that the respondents in the survey indeed earned an average of $39,770 in 2010? Does the average massage therapist in Alaska earn an annual income of $86,250 and the one in Delaware $57,830?




Remember, massage therapists do not have 40-hour workweeks. So it’s either the Bureau suggests that massage therapists make an average of $19.12 per hour throughout an 8-hour workday no matter what pay model is used (thus consistently earning $19.12 x 8 = $153 per day regardless of how many hours they perform a massage), or the yearly salary of $39,770 is just calculated from a survey result which states that the respondents earn an average salary of $19.12 for every hour that they actually perform a massage.


The Bureau actually makes it clear that the latter assumption is correct, and this is what most salary sources are either afraid to tell you, or unaware of. Or, it’s just that they do not know how to explain it. I’m sure a lot of people understand without being told that massage therapists cannot do massages for 8 hours a day regularly because of the physical nature of the job, but also that a lot of them do not understand how massage therapists are typically being paid.


So there’s the confusion, which might also be the reason why the truth doesn’t surface all the time.

Here’s the annotation made by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in their reports:


Annual wages have been calculated by multiplying the hourly mean wage by a “year-round, full-time” hours figure of 2,080 hours; for those occupations where there is not an hourly mean wage published, the annual wage has been directly calculated from the reported survey data.”


If massage therapists in the United States in general indeed earn an average of $39,770 every year, then the Bureau would have clarified that these therapists do not work 40- hour weeks and that $19.12 per hour is just calculated from their findings that the workers earn $39,770 a year on average. But that is just the opposite.


This is the reason why the various salary reports regarding massage therapists can be misleading unless a clarification is provided.


The danger in it is that a person may enter the profession (working for an employer) thinking that she will easily earn $40,000 to $80,000 a year doing massages for 25 hours a week just as normally as the survey respondents seem to make such an amount of money, when the fact is that in order to achieve that (assuming she’s an average earner) she will have to work for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, which nobody does!


Now we know that $39,770 is just a figure calculated from a resultant hourly rate in the same manner that annual salaries in other occupations are calculated from resultant hourly rates (from the surveys) using 2080 hours (40 hours/wk x 52 weeks/yr), when the fact is that the nature of salary payments in the massage therapy profession is significantly different from those in other occupations. In other words, a massage therapist’s salary is on a different plane from those of other professional salaries.


So if you want to know how much an average employed earner in massage therapy is making annually, you can multiply the hourly rate revealed in the survey by the number of hours you expect to work in a year.


By doing this we see that full-time massage therapists earn an average of roughly $25,000 a year. Also, employed massage therapists in Alaska do not really make an average of $86,000 a year, but $54,000, and those in Delaware $36,000.


But remember, this is only for employed therapists. Those in private practice generally enjoy better earnings per hour of massage that they perform.


Location, Location, Location


As implied earlier, national salary averages do not mean a lot in an industry where local markets differ considerably from each other. Such is the case in massage therapy.


Here’s an example. Most employed massage therapists in Anchorage, Alaska make about $40 per hour, and many of them make $50 or more. The median salary of masseuses and masseurs in Anchorage is $44.17 (2012 figure), in other words half of these workers make lower than $44.17 an hour while the other half make more than that amount.


In contrast, the typical employed masseuse in Pittsburgh, PA earns roughly only $14 an hour, with a median salary of $13.69 an hour. Thus, there’s quite a huge gap in the salaries of massage workers between these two places.


To complicate matters, average masseuse salary differences often exist in the same state. In the New York-Hanover, PA area for instance, the average massage therapist salary is $36.99 per hour, which is twice more than the average take home pay of the typical masseuse in Pittsburgh.


So if you are thinking about becoming a masseuse, the first thing that you should do is determine whether the massage market in your area is profitable or not.


Every experienced masseuse knows it – your geographic location has a lot to do with your success in this industry. Every local massage market has its own settling point for salary offers, its own saturation level of massage therapists and businesses, its own acceptable massage rates, type of clients, culture and attitudes, etc.  All these come into play in shaping the market that will in turn determine how much you’re likely to earn.

Is Massage Therapy A Good Career? 


Before you spend months of schooling to become a licensed masseuse, you need to make sure that the profession you are entering will not make you regretful in the end. Remember that by choosing this career path, you are making an important turning point in your life, one which can have you incurring a huge loss if you decide to turn back.


Massage therapy is a good career for those who want to work in healthcare without having the risk, tension and discomforts commonly associated with the industry – busy hospital and nursing home settings, suing patients, tight schedules, collecting samples, cleaning up blood, pee, poop, etc. The idea behind massage is relaxation; what therapy is involved is much less serious than that which is being handled by a doctor or a physical therapist. Ordinarily you will be dealing with people with minor or no physical maladies at all.


But to say that massage is a good career is to take out of the picture those who feel regretful about having gone through a massage school and doing massage as a means of making a living, while to say that massage therapy is a bad profession is to take out of the picture the many successful practitioners who are making a lot of money from it and happily going about doing what they’re good at. You have to look at it on a case-to-case basis and more importantly, know the ins and outs of massage practice relative to your market, regardless of whether you are into it for employment or private practice.


But if you are seriously thinking about entering this field, I would advise you to not go about doing it without reading first the Massage Career Counseling Handbook.  It compiles the most accurate average MT salary and competition data and ranks the cities and non-urban areas all over the United States in terms of potential marketability so you’ll have an idea about how much you can earn where you are planning to work.  The average salary figures I gave for local areas above are excerpts from this report.


In it also are information about the day-to-day realities of being a massage therapist, job opportunities, being employed vs. having a private practice, how to find financing and scholarships, how to avoid becoming a regretful massage therapist, and how to plan a successful career before you attempt to obtain a massage license.  It guides you on the legal aspects of massage therapy, training, insurance coverage, licensing laws and certification, professional associations, marketing, etc.  It’s not really what you can call a normal handbook because it contains more than 100 pages.


The best thing about it and the reason that it’s recommendable is that it gives you advice on whether or not you should pursue massage therapy in the first place, saving you hundreds or thousands of dollars and years of your life should you pursue it and fail to be successful in it.  If it’s good, then you’re armed and guided so you know how to take advantage of this profession, which can be very lucrative if you do things right.  From the viewpoint of a person who wants to undergo massage training, this handbook is crucial.  By not trying to pursue massage therapy you can be missing out on a great opportunity, but if you do it haphazardly it can also be a great mistake.

Related Topics:
States That Do Not Regulate Massage Therapy

Masseuse Training

Should You Pursue A Career In Massage?



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  • South Carolina
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