Okay – I admit it: I’m a freakin nerd. I felt compelled to answer a question on Quora along the lines of the question above. What does that say about me?
But to the topic! Here in Germany the career level most similar to that of the four guys is “Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter”, which is equivalent to “Research Scientist” or “Associate Researcher” etc. There is a national tarif for employees at public institutions, and the starting salery for a research fellow falls into the tarif level 13 for federal and for state employees, respectively. TV-L 13 for state employed scientists currently starts at a monthly base income of € 3,837 / US$ 4,268 for the first year of employment plus various benefits that depend on the individuals life circumstances and place of deployment. Assuming the individual is never promoted to a higher pay range, the final level is reached after 15 years woth € 5,623 / US$ 6256 per month, as of today’s exchange rates. Employment conditions include full coverage health insurance, generous pension schemes, unlimited paid sick leave and up to 6 weeks paid vacation annually. Note that for example health insurance for Kids up to 18 is free of charge, school is free, university education is free and living costs in Germany generally are much lower than in the US, especially when compared to California. For example:
Rent Prices in Germany are 33.61% lower than in United States
Restaurant Prices in Germany are 13.11% lower than in United States
Groceries Prices in Germany are 24.79% lower than in United States
So – in any case: as a staff scientist you don’t get rich, but the position pays well enough to make a decent living while doing rather interesting work in a usually quite pleasant environment.
Now one might wonder why the folks in the show live the generally rather humble lifestyle they do live. I’d say there are several reasons, some related to the shows concept, some more real world grounded. Part of the shows comedy is derived from contrasting grown men and women with late teen to early twen college student behavior and quirks. The lifestyle depicted in the show basically is that of college students. On the other hand many scientists I know indeed don’t have much interest in material status symbols and, well, let’s call them “mainstream luxury” items. They do, however, sink money into their special interests, expensive books, geeky gadgets and the like. I certainly plead guilty on that account…