By Bridget Quigg
From naughty secretaries in tight, red dresses to sexist, chain-smoking account executives, the TV drama Mad Men has fans all a flutter about 1960s culture. Right down to single malt scotch during meetings, Mad Men’s Sterling Cooper ad agency gets wide acclaim for re-creating the ‘60s Madison Avenue scene almost flawlessly.
But, what about all that money they’re making? Raises, bonuses, merit increases – Peggy, Pete, Don and the gang are hungry for them. Don Draper rakes in an impressive $45,000 a year. What would that mean in today’s dollars? And, what do big-time advertising execs in Manhattan make today?
Let’s take a look at some of the salary we have picked up from the show and adjust it for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index calculator. This index tells us how much spending power each 1962 income would give its character in today’s market. We’ll also check out typical salaries in 2009 for the same agency jobs, according to online salary database, PayScale.com, and see if the TV characters seem over- or under-paid compared to today.
Creative Director, Advertising
Don is Sterling Cooper’s golden boy. After threatening to leave, his annual salary jumped from about $35,000 per year to around $45,000. Plus, he became a partner. In 1962, that would be like having $315,000 to spend every year. That’s a lot. In fact, your average creative director in a New York advertising firm today, with about 10 years of experience, would likely earn less than Don, at a median annual salary of $126,400. Even the highest paid “golden” guys and gals in Don’s position come in around $220,200. But, hey, he’s Don Draper.
Account Executive, Advertising
Pete had a love-child with Peggy Olson but he and his wife can’t conceive. While the stress of childlessness makes their marriage bumpy, at least his wife Trudy’s family affords them a comfy lifestyle. Pete doesn’t quite rake in the big dollars yet with only $75 a week, or $3,900 a year. That would be like having $27,300 to spend a year. Thank goodness for his honey’s money. By comparison, an account executive at a New York City advertising firm today, fresh out of college, would do a little better, making about $46,000 per year.
This racy redhead keeps Roger’s heart pumping and the girls in the office fearing for their jobs. Her modern day counterparts likely live less glamorous lifestyles and wear more comfortable shoes. What do they earn? An office manager with over five years of experience in Manhattan today makes about $57,400 per year. Maybe not enough to dress quite as exquisitely as Joan, but it’s likely that her many admirers help her wardrobe stay so fabulous.
A lead copywriter and social activist, Paul is an office Romeo who is certainly making more than his fellow, female copywriter, Peggy Olson. Just how much, we are not sure. His bohemian lifestyle and progressive social views make it seem like he’s not a money guy like Don or Roger. But, it turns out that, today, a senior copywriter like Paul makes a better salary than most folks in the office at $86,000 per year.
The Brooklyn broad has made the bold leap from secretary to copywriter, thanks to her quick, quotable quips. “What did you bring me, Daddy?” for Mohawk Airlines – that was Peggy. And, she was even bold enough to ask for a $5 dollar a week raise from $35 a week to $40. That would still leave her with only the equivalent of $14,560 to spend a year. Yikes! We think you’re worth more than that, Peggy. Fortunately, today, a young copywriter at a Big Apple advertising agency can expect to earn closer to $48,200 – which is still barely making it in the big city.
Though Salvatore doesn’t get any extra income for the stress of hiding his sexual orientation from his homophobic colleagues, he should earn a fair amount for his hand-drawn sketches and tasteful designs. Plus, he just looks so good with that tan and colorful hanky in his suit pocket. Today, a senior art director with 10 plus years of experience who’s working near Midtown usually rakes in an impressive $99,356 per year. And, their salary can range into the high $100,000s. That’s good, because any art director probably likes to dress up and look sharp as much as Salvatore.
Jane (Siegel) Sterling
Roger’s second wife served as Don Draper’s secretary, and eye candy, for a short time. Her secretarial skills certainly didn’t pay her bills, but maybe her college degree helped boost her earnings. It sounds like most of the secretaries and typists on the show earn about $35 a week which would be like having $13,104 in your pocket for a whole year’s work. Ouch. Fortunately, incomes have improved for the hard-working, well-organized secretaries of New York. The median annual salary of a secretary in Manhattan with less than two years of experience is $40,000.
Source: Salary data from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median annual salaries for full-time employee in New York, New York in a 200 person company with 1-10 years of experience, depending on the character, and include any bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing.