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2 reasons why PHP developers earn lower average salaries that have nothing to do with PHP

18 June 2024 , by Josh Nel

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In a recent webinar on software developer salaries, we found that salaries for PHP developers are consistently lower than developers working with other mainstream languages like Python or JavaScript.

In this article, we’ll explore two possible explanations for this salary discrepancy that have nothing to do with PHP as a language – the industries and company sizes where PHP developers commonly work. We’ll also unpack how this impacts the way you go about salary benchmarking.

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PHP developers earn the lowest average salaries among mainstream languages

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Average salaries for PHP developers have been among the lowest since at least 2019, and senior PHP developers are the only major language group to see negative salary growth over the past 12 months.

Annual developer salary growth by language (2023 - 2024)

Experience 0-2 2-4 4-6 6-10 10+
C# -0.55% 3.66% 4.77% 2.46% 6.54%
Java -9.42% -0.48% 1.39% 3.39% 4.51%
JavaScript -6.64% 0.22% 4.21% 0.85% 8.36%
Python -4.71% -0.05% 2.29% 0.36% 2.28%
PHP -17.69% 4.45% 15.26% 4.89% -2.79%
Go 32.53% 6.89% -2.26% -0.22% 6.63%
Kotlin -10.49% 0.12% 10.27% -5.07% 6.59%
Ruby 4.09% -27.02% 17.94% 8.10% 15.84%

A language’s earning potential can impact its desirability and influence how many developers decide to learn it. Developers weighed in: nearly a third of them say that better earning potential is the most important factor, after career opportunities when choosing the next language they want to work with.

Despite PHP’s lower average salaries, it remains one of the most commonly used languages in the country. Moreover, more developers want to work with PHP as their next language compared to Ruby, one of the best-paid languages for developers at each stage of their careers.

This got us thinking: Why do PHP developers earn lower average salaries despite the language’s popularity and demand?

It’s easy to think that this is due to some features of PHP leading to developers earning lower average salaries. But the data suggests it’s unlikely to have anything to do with the language. Instead, where PHP developers work may have a bigger impact.

PHP devs are over-represented in lower-paid industries

A developer's primary coding language isn’t the only contributing factor to their earning potential. Their industry also plays a big role in what they can expect to earn, and PHP devs are no exception.

If we look at PHP developers’ industry breakdown, we find that they’re almost twice as likely to work in Web development and more than three times as likely to work for digital agencies:

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At the same time, PHP developers are under-represented in FinTech companies compared to their non-PHP counterparts. This is one possible reason for their lower average salaries, as FinTech tends to be one of South Africa’s better-paying industries and Web development one of the lowest:

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PHP devs are over-represented in smaller companies

Industry is not the only explanation for PHP developers earning lower average salaries, the size of their companies might also be a contributing factor. If we compare company sizes for PHP developers and their non-PHP counterparts, we find that PHP devs are more likely to work for smaller companies with fewer than 50 employees:

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These companies typically have lower average salaries than larger or enterprise ones, who can usually afford larger hiring budgets:

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Together, company size and industry go some way towards explaining why PHP developers earn less on average, as companies in certain industries might tend towards smaller head counts.

We can see this playing out in the case of web development, where more than half of companies have fewer than 50 employees:

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Don’t benchmark based on someone’s prior roles

So what does all of this mean for your salary benchmarking? The case of PHP is a good example of the many factors that go into determining a developer’s salary.

That’s why you should invest in understanding people’s skills and history when benchmarking. Focus on the value and experience someone brings to the team instead of benchmarking them against their previous role.

If you’re looking for reliable data to benchmark your developer salary ranges download the 2024 Software Developer Salary Benchmarking Report, with data from over 3900 South African developers. In it, you'll get exclusive insights and data into:

  • Average software developer salaries in 2024
  • The best-paying industries for South African developers
  • Benchmarks for niche skills in 2024

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