Why ‘PayScale, Inc.’ is Wrong About Behavior Analysts

Source: https://flic.kr/p/5PnBpk

By Chelsea Wilhite, M.A., BCBA 

bSci21 Contributing Writer

The online company PayScale, Inc. (payscale.com) recently released its list of best jobs for “do-gooders.” PayScale lists and rates salaries, benefits, and compensation packages for a large variety of professions.  For the 2015 list, “Behavior Analyst” came in at number eight in the top ten most meaningful jobs.  Behavior analysts are in good company.  “Orthopedic Surgeon” came in at number one with 100% of those surveyed reporting their job makes the world a better place. That – and the $337,800/year pay check – helped boost the profession to the top slot.  Not all jobs in the top ten are so lucrative, but all do have high ratings on the “my job makes the world a better place” measure.  All top ten ranked jobs involve some sort of service to others, most are in the medical/health field (Orthopedic Surgeon, Chiropractor, Certified Nurse Midwife, Behavior Analyst) or public safety (Police Chief, Fire Captain).

The report says behavior analysts “help clients and patients improve their lives” and that they “typically have close relationships with their patients, so they get to see the difference their work makes on a very personal level.”  A further description of the duties behavior analysts perform includes training “professionals, teachers, and parents how to implement behavior support plans, skills, and procedures.”  The website goes on to describe several skills behavior analysts need in order to complete their tasks and, of course, details the general pay scales behavior analysts can expect.  While the website does specify a Master’s degree is required, nowhere is the Behavior Analyst Certification Board mentioned by name.  There is a vague reference to “other certifications” but the designations BCBA, BCaBA, or RBT are not listed in the content of either post, not to mention state-specific certifications. The BCBA designation is included in the “job listings” portion of the site.

I concede the helping people “improve their lives” part applies to at least some component of almost everything behavior analysts do.  The rest, however, is entirely too restrictive a description of what behavior analysts around the world can and do achieve on a daily basis. PayScale’s assumption that behavior analysts are strictly clinical-, home- or school-based service providers captures such a narrow slice of how behavior analysts spend their work time.

The field of behavior science has experienced a period of unusual acceptance with the general population.  I know many people’s jaws will drop when they read this because we still have to struggle for acceptance and recognition each day.  But with the increase in general awareness and knowledge of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), behavior analysis has enjoyed a corresponding rise in exposure.  However, as the PayScale article demonstrates, the general public’s understanding of what behavior analysis is and what behavior analysts do is very narrow, essentially limited to treating behavior issues related to ASD and perhaps mainstream school classrooms.  In short, PayScale, Inc. is wrong about behavior analysts, but not because they included an error but because they had an error of omission.

Especially when behavior analysts work on teams with other experts, we can have a meaningful, helpful impact in many fields.  As BCBAs, BCaBAs, RBTs, and general behavior scientists we have a responsibility to continue educating the public about the variety of areas in which behavior science can have a positive impact.

Please leave your questions and comments below and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!  And for those of you interested, here is a more inclusive, but far from exhaustive, list of the areas in which behavior analysts (both registered/certified and non-certified behavior scientists) work:

Acceptant and Commitment Therapy/Training (E.g., Hayes, Stosahl, & Wilson, 2011)

Addiction/Addiction recovery (E.g., JABA, Winter 2008 Special Issue)

Animal husbandry/training (E.g., Forthman & Ogden, 1992)

Applied research (E.g., JABA)

Athletic performance (E.g., Mace, Lalli, Shea, & Nevin, 1992)

Basic research (E.g., JEAB)

Curriculum development (E.g., Resnick, Wang, & Kaplan, 1973)

Direct instruction (E.g., Engelmann, Becker, Carnine, & Gersten, 1988)

Direct service to people with intellectual, developmental, and/or behavioral disabilities (E.g., BAP)

Dissemination (education and media) (E.g., Morris, 1985)

Fluency training (E.g., Buckland, Dickinson, & Brethower, 2000)

Gerontology (E.g., Burgio & Burgio, 1986)

Health and fitness (E.g., Winett, Moore, & Anderson, 1991)

Health and medical program adherence (E.g., Carton & Schweitzer, 1996)

Interdisciplinary work (E.g., Geller, 1989)

Interteaching (E.g., Saville, Zinn, Neef, Van Norman, & Ferreri, 2006)

Language acquisition (E.g., Sundberg, Michael, Partington, & Sundberg, 1996)

Nutrition/Feeding problems (E.g., Winett, Moore, Wagner, Hite, et al., 1991)

Organizational behavior management (E.g., JOBM)

Parenting/Parent training (E.g, Stocco & Thompson, 2015)

Personalized systems of instruction (E.g., Chase & Houmanfar, 2009)

Precision Teaching (E.g., Lindsley, 1992)

Positive Behavior Interventions & Support (E.g., PBIS)

Relational Frame Theory (E.g., Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, & Cullinan. 2000)

Safety systems/practices (E.g., Fellner & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1984)

Staff training (E.g., Nosik, Williams, Garrido, & Lee, 2013)

Sustainability/Resource conservation (E.g., Lehman & Geller, 2004)

Translational research (E.g., Mace & Critchfield, 2010)

About the Author:

Chelsea Wilhite, M.A. chelsea.wilhite@gmail.com

Chelsea Wilhite, M.A., BCBA has always wanted to better understand the world around us. As a television journalist, Chelsea worked her way up the ranks to produce the number one rated television news broadcast in the Fresno television market, an area covering five California counties. Along the way, she won two regional news Emmys and a Radio and Television News Directors Award for best news producer. In an effort to further her understanding of natural phenomena, Chelsea left television after more than a decade, turning to Behavior Analysis. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Reno. While behavior science research and instruction is now her primary interest, Chelsea never lost her passion for journalism and regularly contributes to behavior science oriented blogs, magazines, and newsletters. You can contact her at chelsea.wilhite@gmail.com.

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  1. Working as a behavior analyst for about 40 years, I fully agree that there is much more that we can contribute to improving aspects of the human condition. Unfortunately, while the publicity that success in working with children with autism has generated is good for behavior analysis overall, it has tended to limit public understanding of the potential benefits in other areas and many of the current training programs tend to emphasize autism treatment.

  2. Hey, I am African living here in USA. I am interested in enrolling in ABA master program but I am curious about my chance of making it in this field since it appears to be more of white population.

  3. Dear Uche,

    I’ve just uncovered INFO you might find relevant on ABA race, ethnicity & gender @ Data USA:


    As a 60-year old White male, ironically, I too feel an outsider as my research concerns Hispanic-Latino(H-L)ABAs and the rates of H-L ASD-clients successfully finding gainful employment … for this USA data suggests the professional ABA community is predominately White females; e.g. my positionality is one of both a White non-H-L AND an old White man. But these issues should not discourage either of us! Best wishes on your quest! G

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