‘The Big Bang Theory’: Would Bernadette Really Make Much More Money Than Howard?

Howard Wolowitz’s educational background is a source of regular jokes in the early seasons of The Big Bang Theory, holding a master’s from M.I.T, he has the least amount of education amongst his friends, save for Penny. When Howard marries Bernadette Rostenkowski, however, his earning potential becomes a point of contention. Bernadette, who holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology is often viewed as above Howard in the pay hierarchy, but would she really have made much more than him in real life? Let’s look at the numbers.

How much did Howard Wolowitz earn?

Howard’s main job throughout The Big Bang Theory is as an aerospace engineer. While his friends often rag on him for his lack of education and the seeming unimportance of his job, he isn’t underpaid by any stretch of the imagination. An aerospace engineer like Howard can earn anywhere from $70,000 to $157,000 depending on experience, the type of company the engineer works for, and the area where they work.

Howard did attend a pretty prestigious school, meaning he was likely recruited for his job at CalTech. Even still, let’s assume he makes the national average of $89,000 as an aerospace engineer. While he’s not exactly making money hand over fist, his income is higher than the national average. The national average salary is just $56,000, according to CNBC.

How much did Bernadette make at a pharmaceutical company?

When Bernadette first joins The Big Bang Theory she’s working as a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory to supplement her income while she earns her doctorate. Once she finishes her program she joins a pharmaceutical company, which allegedly offers her a “boatload” of cash.  

What constitutes a boatload of cash, though? According to Payscale, the average for a microbiologist with a doctorate makes around $80,000 a year, but there is a broad range based on the type of company the microbiologist works for. According to the same resource, a microbiologist in the biotechnology sector can expect to make around $116,000.

Based on Bernadette’s statements, we can assume she made closer to that $116,000 mark than the $80,000 average. But that’s not all that matters when it comes to income. One has to consider how much money they each had going into the marriage and their potential earnings over time.

Where their salaries really that disparate?

If we assume that Bernadette was clearing around $116,000 and Howard was clearing around $90,000, we can assume that Bernadette outearned Howard by about 22%. That’s not a small percentage by any means, but we have to factor in other sources of income.

Howard and Bernadette on their wedding day
Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg, right) and Bernadette Rostenkowski (Melissa Rauch, left) | Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images

Howard, as an only child, inherited whatever his mother had when she passed away. Howard also lived with his mother for the entirety of his working career until he married Bernadette. It can be assumed that Howard could have saved upwards of $300,000 simply by living at home for the eight years between marrying Bernadette and earning his degree.

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Bernadette was making ends meet by working at The Cheesecake Factory, so it can be assumed she didn’t have a ton in savings before securing her job with the pharmaceutical company. If that’s the case, Howard has more liquid cash than Bernadette when the pair get married. While she may outearn him for the rest of their working careers, it’s safe to say that Howard’s nest egg was probably substantially more substantial than Bernadette’s at the start of their marriage.