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Nurse Salary 2021: How Much Do Registered Nurses Make? [Updated]

Updated on
By Frieda Paton, M.Cur, RN

Salaries of registered nurses in the US are among the best in the world. But how much do nurses make? Here you’ll find the answer to this question together with many more insights about nurse salaries. We take a look at the average nurse salary and also registered nurse salaries by state for 2020-2021. We then highlight a number of other factors that influence the salary you can expect to earn. Or that can affect your decision about where to study and where to apply for a job.

This nurse salary guide serves to give you an outlook on what the data says about nurse salaries and how you can negotiate for better pay and grow your nursing career!

Table of Contents

What’s new for this year?

What were the most notable changes in nurses’ salaries since the last BLS survey?

The average salary growth for registered nurses was 3.29%, which was the highest annual increase since 2008. There were, however, considerable differences in the average salary growth between states. For example, registered nurse salaries in California increased by 5.8%, while in Delaware it was only 0.3%.

Based on data provided by Payscale.com, the difference between the salaries of nurses with an associate degree and BSN qualified nurses increased by 1.4%. 

The growth in salaries for LPN’s (3.17%) and advanced nurse practitioners (3.2%) was similar to that of registered nurses. The average salaries of nurse anesthetists, however, increased by 4.2%. Interestingly, the national average wage increased by 5%, higher than that for nurses. On the other hand,  the gap between average registered nurse salaries and salaries of all health workers became slightly smaller, as the average income of everyone in the health sector only grew by 2.6%.

What is the Average Nurse Salary?

The average annual salary of a registered nurse for 2021 is at $80,010. How does yours compare? Learn more about nurse salaries here: https://nurseslabs.com/nurse-salary/Click to Post

The national average salary of a registered nurse according to the most recent data is $80,010 per year, representing an hourly wage of $38.47. This  is according to the estimates released by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook in March 2021.

There was an increase in the average hourly wage of over one dollar between 2019 and 2020. The average annual salary of the 10% of RN’s who earned the least was $53,410, and the top 10% earned an average of $116,230.

STILL AMONG THE HIGHEST PAYING PROFESSIONS. For 2020-2021, registered nurses, on average, earn $80,010 per year.

Salary Growth of Registered Nurses

On average, the salary of registered nurses grew by 1.66% per year in the decade 2011 to 2020 according to data by the BLS. The data collected in 2020 showed an above average growth of 3.29%, which might be linked to the countrywide shortage of nurses during the COVID-19 epidemic. Nurse salaries are expected to continue increasing steadily as the demand for nurses grows. 

DEMAND DRIVES GROWTH. There is an average increase of 1.67% in the salary of nurses during the last 10 years.
DEMAND DRIVES GROWTH. There is an average increase of 1.67% in the salary of nurses during the last 10 years.

Factors that are expected to drive growth include higher demand for preventive care, retirement of the baby boomer generation, access to  better medical technology, and expanded health coverage for more Americans.


Nurse Salary Compared

The average salaries earned by registered nurses compare very well with the overall US national salary average of $56,310 per year or $25.72 per hour. However, registered nurses earn slightly less than the average for everyone in the health sector which was estimated at $85,900 per year, with an hourly average of $41.30.

NURSE SALARY, COMPARED. How do registered nurse salaries compare?
NURSE SALARY, COMPARED. How do registered nurse salaries compare?

In comparison, licensed practical or vocational nurses (LPN/LVN) earned an average of $50,090 per year or $24.08 per hour. Meanwhile, nursing assistants‘ average salary is $32,050 per year.

Nurse practitioners (NP) (excluding nurse anesthetists) earn on average $114,510 per year or $55.05 per hour. NPs are RNs with specialized education that diagnose and treat acute, episodic, or chronic illness, independently or as part of a healthcare team. The top 10% of nurse practitioners earn $156,160.

Nurse instructors, who demonstrate and teach nursing science in classrooms and clinical units to nursing students, earn an average salary of $84,060 per year.

The figures for nurse-midwife salaries were not  available for 14 states so the numbers included in the estimates are not fully representative.  Average annual salaries of nurse-midwives are at $115,540, or $55.55 per hour. This puts their earnings slightly above that of the other advanced practice registered nurses.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) remain the highest paid nurses at an average annual salary of $189,190, or $87.04 per hour. CRNAs earn in a range of $133,970 (lowest 10%) to $208,000 (top 10%). If you are interested in becoming a CRNA, please read our guide Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: How To Become a CRNA.

***Keep in mind that the discussion below refers only to registered nurses and does not include nurses with advanced qualifications. 

Nurse Salaries by State

What are the best paying states for nurses? According to the latest BLS data, the top five highest paying states for registered nurses are: California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon and Alaska.

U.S. STATES FOR NURSES. A look at the best paying US states for registered nurses.
U.S. STATES FOR NURSES. A look at the best paying US states for registered nurses.

The table below provides details on the total number of employed registered nurses in each state, their average annual nurse salaries, and the average hourly wage. Not all nurses earn the same. As you can see in the table, the state in which a nurse works has a big influence on the salary they’ll earn. When considering your potential salary, it’s also very important to keep in mind the cost of living in a particular state – in other words, the actual buying power of each dollar you earn. To allow for easy comparison, we have provided the relative purchasing power (RPP) for each state. This figure is a percentage of the cost of living in each state compared to national price levels. In terms of the RPP, you can do the same with a salary of $55,000 in Massachusetts (RPP 110.4) as with a salary of $45,000 in Tennessee (RPP 89.7).

District of Columbia10,320$90,050$43.29115.2
New Hampshire13,840$75,970$36.52106.5
New Jersey78,590$85,720$41.21116
New Mexico17,100$75,700$36.4091.1
New York178,550$89,760$43.16116.3
North Carolina99,110$68,950$33.1591.7
North Dakota9,970$69,630$33.4789.3
Rhode Island12,150$82,790$39.81101.3
South Carolina45,930$67,140$32.2891.5
South Dakota13,130$60,960$29.3187.8
West Virginia19,800$65,130$31.3187.1
Nurse Salary Per State (2020-2021)

Salaries also differ considerably between metropolitan and rural areas – the cost of living and nurses’ salaries are generally much higher in the cities. This is mainly because housing costs a lot more. The large populations in cities create a greater demand for housing and this drives prices up.

Salaries by Employer

Registered nurse salaries differ quite a bit depending on where and by whom they are employed. Of the 2,986,500 registered nurses included in the BLS survey, the single largest group is employed in general medical and surgical hospitals (31%) with an average salary of $81,680. Registered nurses employed in outpatient care centers earn more than those working in hospitals at an average of $89,300. Registered nurses working in offices of physicians, residential care services, and in school or college health services earn well below-average salaries. Nurses in school or college health services earn an average of $69,180.

Hospitals (Government and private)1,832,95061.4$39.24$81,630
Nursing and Residential Care Facilities197,6106.6$34.36$71,470
Offices of Physicians192,3006.4$34.45$71,660
Home Health Care Services169,6305.7$36.48$75,870
Outpatient Care Centers150,3805$42.93$89,300
Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)86,8602.9$46.26$96,230
Educational Services (all levels of education)86,1802.89$33.26$69,180
Direct health and medical insurance carriers25,4804.3$38.12$79,290
Health and personal care stores15300.05$39.46$82,070
Computer systems design and related services13200.04$36.77$76,490
Business support services5600.02$51.28$106,670
Legal Services3500.01$35.61$74,080
Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing3400.01$44.29$92,110

Certain industries pay considerably more than the average. Registered nurses who work for the federal government, as opposed to state or local governments, earn an average nurse salary of $96,230. The small number of nurses working in business support services are very well paid at an average of $106,670.

Salary by Educational Level and Academic Preparation

The type of education with which you qualify as a registered nurse is also a factor in the salary you’ll earn. With a Diploma in Nursing, you’ll earn an average of $66,220 while with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) you can expect $71,091 on average. There is a significant salary jump between an ADN and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). With the latter, you can earn an average of $86,900 according to Payscale.com.

Nurses with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can earn an average of between $96,000 and $100,000, depending on their specialty. The average salaries for nurses with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Ph.D. in Nursing Science are $102,600 and $97,400 respectively.

EDUCATIONAL LEVEL. Comparing the average annual salary of nurses based on their level of education.
EDUCATIONAL LEVEL. Comparing the average annual salary of nurses based on their level of education.

There is a significant time and cost difference between qualifying as a registered nurse with a two-year ADN and a four-year BSN. You may ask yourself whether the difference is worth it in terms of potential income. Some employers might start newly qualified registered nurses on the same salary but, as seen in the table above, those with higher qualifications earn more on average. 

Another factor to consider is that nurses with a BSN have far greater opportunities for employment in the job of their choice and for career advancement. BSN nurses can be promoted to managerial positions such as that of a clinical nurse manager or a nursing director. They can also opt to study at the post-graduate level to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) specializing in a field of nursing that interests them – and earning the salary that goes with the role. There is wide support in the US that all nurses should hold a BSN and a number of hospitals now employ only nurses qualified with a BSN.


Obviously, a newly qualified registered nurse will likely earn quite a bit less than the average registered nurse salary, which includes those with many years of experience. As you gain experience your salary will increase and you can also apply for another position that pays more – especially once you’ve gained at least a few years of experience in a particular field of nursing where there is a demand. Here it is worth mentioning that should you be interested in doing some travel nursing, most positions require 2-3 years of experience in a particular field like ICU.

Travel nurses help to meet staffing needs in hospitals and other facilities, usually for two to three months. In many cases, travel nurse salaries are higher than the pay for full-time permanent staff, from $50 an hour or more in specialty positions. An added benefit is that free, furnished, housing is usually included in the package.

Male vs Female: Gender Pay Gap in Nursing

The gender pay gap occurs even in nursing where females dominate the industry and only 12% of the nursing workforce is male. The 2020 Nursing Salary Research Report by Nurse.com found that average male nurse salaries in the sample was $80,000 compared to an average of $72,703  for women – a difference of more than $7,200 per year. 

GENDER PAY GAP. There is a 9% difference in salaries of male vs female nurses.
GENDER PAY GAP. There is a 9% difference in salaries of male vs female nurses.

While men reported working slightly longer hours than women, this was not enough to explain the gender pay gap. One aspect that could contribute to men’s higher salaries is that men are more likely to negotiate their salaries:  57% of men “most of the time or always” negotiate, while only 34% of women do so.

Nursing: Still a Great Career Choice in the US

The average registered nurse salary is higher than the average national wage in the US and unemployment is low at 1.2%.  Furthermore, the BLS predicts that the number of jobs for registered nurses will grow by 12% up to 2028 – considerably more than most other jobs. There are also lots of opportunities for nurses to increase their income through specialization or promotion.

Besides, the job of  nurse practitioner ranked #3 in the US top 100 jobs for 2021, while registered nurse came in at #37. This ranking considers not only salary and job opportunities, but also factors like job satisfaction, the potential for advancement, stress levels, and work-life balance.


  1. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020 – Registered Nurses (bls.gov)
  2. Registered Nurses – Occupational Outlook Handbook (bls.gov)
  3. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020 – Nurse Practitioners (bls.gov)
  4. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020 – Nurse Midwives (bls.gov)
Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

10 thoughts on “Nurse Salary 2021: How Much Do Registered Nurses Make? [Updated]”

  1. At the rate of thirty thousand average, meaning many CNAs get much less, then you can understand why they are limited and the availably ones only work when the pay is satisfying because they pay the same bills do the dirtiest work and get the least pay and respect from both the nurse and the client.

  2. When I became a registered nurses just six years ago I made only 18.50 an hour. I continued to make less than 21.00 an hour for three years. I literally left many jobs due to this and reading the stats of what “they say employers offer in your area”. I make 31.00 an hour now but that’s after years… And let me tell you, simply look at the RN job adds offering 12-28 an hour you’ll see the true pay in these areas. I’m still blown away at the false facts still on the internet about RN pay and treatment… The facts are there, you will have to jump through hoops to get the hourly rate these sites state RN’s make. Yes, you can get there but you have to job hop as well as demand it..

  3. Hi Sabrina,

    I just want to reach out to you. I agree that in select states RNs will work years to earn $31.00/hour. And in those select states nurses have to work years to earn that salary. I live in Los Angeles County in the state of California. I’m going to briefly paint a cost of living to income picture. I recently lived in neighborhoods where the average 1-bedroom apartment is about $1500/month (and the high end apartments were $4500/month). My spouse was going to start a job in a select state where they wanted to start me at $21/hour. (Because of COVID-19 that company furloughed their employees). The average 1 bedroom apartment was $1200/month. That salary in that state is not proportionate to the cost of living and income for an RN in Los Angeles County. Nurses in that select city/state worked 20 years to earn an equivalent to the median Los Angeles RN income.

    I’ve had RN classmates who made $28/hour on their first RN job and others who started at $54/hour right out of school. I also see that there are jobs that offer less. If you put your resume in LinkedIn or Indeed and state you’re willing to relocate you WILL get recruiters contacting you. There are jobs offering $10,000 sign on bonus, $60/hr, $80/hr, $100/hr.

    Take Care

  4. This is a very helpful article. It is disappointing to see that gender pay gap also in this female dominated industry. I just wanted to point out that I think there’s a typo on the graphic of average wages per state on the US map. WV wages are listed as 113K/yr and on the following table is listed as 63k.

  5. Here in the Philippines, the salary of the nurses for a month is the salary of the nurses in the US for a day. The regular RN here gets $300-500 (top) a month.


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