This paper examines highly paid academics – or “top earners” – employed across universities in ten European countries based on a large-scale international survey data of the academic profession. It examines the relationships between salaries and academic behaviors and productivity, as well as the predictors of being an academic top earner. While in the Anglo-Saxon countries the university research mission traditionally pays off at an individual level, in Continental Europe it pays off only in combination with administrative and related duties. Seeking future financial rewards through research does not seem to be a viable strategy in Europe – but seeking satisfaction in research through solving research puzzles is also getting difficult, with the growing emphasis on “relevance” and “applicability” of research. Thus both the traditional “investment motivation” and “consumption motivation” for research are ever-harder to be followed, with policy implications. The primary data come from 8,466 usable cases. This paper examines change processes in Western Europe and in Poland (in a European context) and its main reference point is American higher education scholarship; it is, on the theoretical plane, the founder of the conceptual frameworks to study academic salaries, and, in practical terms, the US science systems heavily draws on European scientific talents.