Back in 1989 I got my first full-time professional job after I completed my master's degree. The salary was initially £10,500 p.a. I was a property market researcher/analyst. At a rough guess that would translate to about £18-19k today. At today's exchange rate that would be around AUD 28k p.a. which is about the minimum wage in Australia. Does this mean that I was really badly paid? Or that economic growth has resulted in all wages rising in real terms? Or that the Australian Dollar is really over-valued at the moment? Or have I underestimated inflation?
I don't think I was really badly paid as that was roughly the amount that a government department was willing to pay me at the time. I soon got a rise though to £12,500 p.a. when I found out that one of my colleagues was earning that higher amount while doing the same job. That's the reason that private employers don't like people to discuss salary. I've assumed an average of 2.7% p.a. of inflation. So I think it is a bit of a mixture of the effects of economic growth and the overvaluation of the AUD when I look at current UK salaries.
In my new job my salary will be AUD 144k. It's a pretty crazy number when translated into Sterling (£95k). Though I'm only at mid-career I don't think I will earn much more than this in real terms for the rest of my career, though there are a couple of pay points above this level on the academic pay scale. The only ways up would be to either go into a very high level admin role in the public sector, switch to private industry or get a similar job at a top US private university. I'm not at all keen on the first and doubt the latter is going to happen. At the moment, I'm not interested in the middle option either unless it was for a limited period of time.
But actually it is pretty typical for salary to peak at this point in life. People with a high level of education typical plateau from here on while this is the summit for people with lower levels of education.