About half worked for Federal, State, and local governments,
mostly for the Federal Government.
The educational attainment of social scientists is among the
highest of all occupations.
Anthropologists and archaeologists will experience average
growth, but slower-than-average employment growth is expected
for geographers, historians, political scientists, and sociologists
because they enjoy fewer opportunities outside of government
and academic settings.
Competition for jobs will remain keen for all specialties
because many of these social scientists compete for jobs with
other workers, such as psychologists, statisticians, and market
and survey researchers.
Social scientists study all aspects of society—from past events
and achievements to human behavior and relationships among groups.
Their research provides insights that help us understand different
ways in which individuals and groups make decisions, exercise
power, and respond to change. Through their studies and analyses,
social scientists suggest solutions to social, business, personal,
governmental, and environmental problems.
Research is a major activity of many social scientists, who use
a variety of methods to assemble facts and construct theories.
Applied research usually is designed to produce information that
will enable people to make better decisions or manage their affairs
more effectively. Collecting information takes many forms, including
interviews and questionnaires to gather demographic and opinion
data; living and working among the population being studied; performing
field investigations; analyzing historical records and documents;
experimenting with human or animal subjects in a laboratory; and
preparing and interpreting maps and computer graphics. The work
of specialists in social science varies greatly, although specialists
in one field may find that their research overlaps work being
conducted in another discipline.
Anthropologists study the origin and the physical, social,
and cultural development and behavior of humans. They may examine
the way of life, archaeological remains, language, or physical
characteristics of people in various parts of the world. Some
compare the customs, values, and social patterns of different
cultures. Anthropologists usually concentrate in sociocultural
anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, or biophysical anthropology.
Sociocultural anthropologists study the customs, cultures, and
social lives of groups in settings that range from unindustrialized
societies to modern urban centers. Linguistic anthropologists
investigate the role of, and changes to, language over time in
various cultures. Biophysical anthropologists research the evolution
of the human body, look for the earliest evidences of human life,
and analyze how culture and biology influence one another. Physical
anthropologists examine human remains found at archaeological
sites in order to understand population demographics and factors
that affected these populations, such as nutrition and disease.
Archaeologists examine and recover material evidence,
such as the ruins of buildings, tools, pottery, and other objects
remaining from past human cultures in order to determine the chronology,
history, customs, and living habits of earlier civilizations.
Most anthropologists and archaeologists specialize in a particular
region of the world.
Geographers analyze distributions of physical and cultural
phenomena on local, regional, continental, and global scales.
Economic geographers study the distribution of resources and economic
activities. Political geographers are concerned with the relationship
of geography to political phenomena, whereas cultural geographers
study the geography of cultural phenomena. Physical geographers
examine variations in climate, vegetation, soil, and landforms
and their implications for human activity. Urban and transportation
geographers study cities and metropolitan areas, while regional
geographers study the physical, economic, political, and cultural
characteristics of regions ranging in size from a congressional
district to entire continents. Medical geographers investigate
health care delivery systems, epidemiology (the study of the causes
and control of epidemics), and the effect of the environment on
health. Most geographers use geographic information systems (GIS)
technology to assist with their work. For example, they may use
GIS to create computerized maps that can track information such
as population growth, traffic patterns, environmental hazards,
natural resources, and weather patterns, after which they use
the information to advise governments on the development of houses,
roads, or landfills.
Historians research, analyze, and interpret the past.
They use many Sources of Additional Information in their research,
including government and institutional records, newspapers and
other periodicals, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished
manuscripts such as personal diaries and letters. Historians usually
specialize in a country or region, a particular period, or a particular
field, such as social, intellectual, cultural, political, or diplomatic
history. Biographers collect detailed information on individuals.
Other historians help study and preserve archival materials, artifacts,
and historic buildings and sites.
Political scientists study the origin, development, and
operation of political systems and public policy. They conduct
research on a wide range of subjects, such as relations between
the United States and other countries, the institutions and political
life of nations, the politics of small towns or a major metropolis,
and the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Studying topics such
as public opinion, political decision making, ideology, and public
policy, they analyze the structure and operation of governments,
as well as various political entities. Depending on the topic,
a political scientist might conduct a public-opinion survey, analyze
election results or public documents, or interview public officials.
Sociologists study society and social behavior by examining
the groups and social institutions people form, as well as various
social, religious, political, and business organizations. They
also study the behavior of, and interaction among, groups, trace
their origin and growth, and analyze the influence of group activities
on individual members. Sociologists are concerned with the characteristics
of social groups, organizations, and institutions; the ways individuals
are affected by each other and by the groups to which they belong;
and the effect of social traits such as gender, age, or race on
a person’s daily life. The results of sociological research aid
educators, lawmakers, administrators, and others who are interested
in resolving social problems and formulating public policy.
Most sociologists work in one or more specialties, such as social
organization, stratification, and mobility; racial and ethnic
relations; education; the family; social psychology; urban, rural,
political, and comparative sociology; gender relations; demography;
gerontology; criminology; and sociological practice.
Most social scientists have regular hours. Generally working
behind a desk, either alone or in collaboration with other social
scientists, they read and write research articles or reports.
Many experience the pressures of writing and publishing, as well
as those associated with deadlines and tight schedules. Sometimes
they must work overtime, for which they usually are not compensated.
Social scientists often work as an integral part of a research
team, among whose members good communications skills are important.
Travel may be necessary to collect information or attend meetings.
Social scientists on foreign assignment must adjust to unfamiliar
cultures, climates, and languages.
Some social scientists do fieldwork. For example, anthropologists,
archaeologists, and geographers may travel to remote areas, live
among the people they study, learn their languages, and stay for
long periods at the site of their investigations. They may work
under rugged conditions, and their work may involve strenuous
Social scientists employed by colleges and universities usually
have flexible work schedules, often dividing their time among
teaching, research, writing, consulting, and administrative responsibilities.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
The educational attainment of social scientists is among the
highest of all occupations. The Ph.D. or an equivalent degree
is a minimum requirement for most positions in colleges and universities
and is important for advancement to many top-level nonacademic
research and administrative posts. Graduates with master’s degrees
in applied specialties usually have better opportunities outside
of colleges and universities, although the situation varies by
field. Graduates with a master’s degree in a social science may
qualify for teaching positions in community colleges. Bachelor’s
degree holders have limited opportunities and, in most social
science occupations, do not qualify for “professional” positions.
The bachelor’s degree does, however, provide a suitable background
for many different kinds of entry-level jobs, such as research
assistant, administrative aide, or management or sales trainee.
With the addition of sufficient education courses, social science
graduates also can qualify for teaching positions in secondary
and elementary schools.
Training in statistics and mathematics is essential for many
social scientists. Mathematical and quantitative research methods
increasingly are being used in geography, political science, and
other fields. The ability to utilize computers for research purposes
is mandatory in most disciplines. Most geographers—and increasing
numbers of archaeologists— also will need to be familiar with
Many social science students find that internships or field experience
is beneficial. Numerous local museums, historical societies, government
agencies, and other organizations offer internships or volunteer
research opportunities. Archaeological field schools instruct
future anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians in how
to excavate, record, and interpret historical sites.
Depending on their jobs, social scientists may need a wide range
of personal characteristics. Intellectual curiosity and creativity
are fundamental personal traits, because social scientists constantly
seek new information about people, things, and ideas. The ability
to think logically and methodically is important to a political
scientist comparing, for example, the merits of various forms
of government. Objectivity, having an open mind, and systematic
work habits are important in all kinds of social science research.
Perseverance is essential for an anthropologist, who might have
to spend years studying artifacts from an ancient civilization
before making a final analysis and interpretation. Excellent written
and oral communication skills also are necessary for all these
Social scientists held about 18,000 jobs in 2004. Many worked
as researchers, administrators, and counselors for a wide range
of employers. About half worked for Federal, State, and local
governments, mostly in the Federal Government. Other employers
included scientific research and development services; management,
scientific, and technical consulting services; business, professional,
labor, political, and similar organizations; and architectural,
engineering, and related firms.
Many individuals with training in a social science discipline
teach in colleges and universities and in secondary and elementary
schools. The proportion of social scientists who teach varies
by specialty: for example, the academic world usually is a more
important source of jobs for graduates in history than for graduates
in most other social science fields.
Overall employment of social scientists is expected to grow more
slowly than average for all occupations through 2014. However,
projected growth rates vary by specialty. Anthropologists and
archaeologists will experience average employment growth. Employment
of geographers, historians, political scientists, and sociologists
will grow more slowly than average, mainly because these workers
enjoy fewer opportunities outside of government and academic settings.
Competition will remain keen for social science positions. Many
jobs in policy, research, or marketing for which social scientists
qualify are not advertised exclusively as social scientist positions.
Because of the wide range of skills and knowledge possessed by
the social scientists discussed in this Handbook statement,
many compete for jobs with other workers, such as market and survey
researchers, psychologists, engineers, urban and regional planners>,
A few social scientists will find opportunities as university
faculty, although competition for these jobs also will remain
keen. Usually, there are more graduates than available faculty
positions, although retirements among faculty are expected to
rise in the next few years. The growing importance and popularity
of social science subjects in secondary schools is strengthening
the demand for social science teachers at that level.
Anthropologists and archaeologists will see the majority of their
employment growth in the management, scientific, and technical
consulting services industry. Anthropologists who work as consultants
often apply anthropological knowledge and methods to problems
ranging from economic development issues to forensics. Also, as
construction projects increase, archaeologists will be needed
to perform preliminary excavations in order to preserve historical
sites and artifacts.
Geographers will have opportunities to utilize their skills to
advise government, real estate developers, utilities, and telecommunications
firms on where to build new roads, buildings, power plants, and
cable lines. Geographers also will advise on environmental matters,
such as where to build a landfill or preserve wetland habitats.
Geographers with a background in GIS will find numerous job opportunities
applying GIS technology in nontraditional areas, such as emergency
assistance, where GIS can track locations of ambulances, police,
and fire rescue units and their proximity to the emergency. Workers
in these jobs may not necessarily be called “geographers”, but
instead may be referred to by a different title, such as “GIS
analyst” or “GIS specialist.” GIS technology also will be utilized
in areas of growing importance, such as homeland security and
Historians, political scientists, and sociologists will find
jobs in policy or research. Historians may find opportunities
with historic preservation societies as public interest in preserving
and restoring historical sites increases. Political scientists
will be able to utilize their knowledge of political institutions
to further the interests of nonprofit, political lobbying, and
social organizations. Sociologists may find work conducting policy
research for consulting firms and nonprofit organizations, and
their knowledge of society and social behavior may be used by
a variety of companies in product development, marketing, and
advertising. Job growth will be very slow in the Federal Government,
a key employer of social scientists.
In May 2004, anthropologists and archaeologists had median annual
earnings of $43,890; geographers, $58,970; historians, $44,490;
political scientists, $86,750; and sociologists, $57,870.
In the Federal Government, social scientists with a bachelor’s
degree and no experience could start at a yearly salary of $24,677
or $30,567 in 2005, depending on their college records. Those
with a master’s degree could start at $37,390, and those with
a Ph.D. degree could begin at $45,239, while some individuals
with experience and an advanced degree could start at $54,221.
Beginning salaries were slightly higher in selected areas of the
country where the prevailing local pay level was higher.
Social scientists’ duties and training outlined in this statement
are similar to those of other occupations covered elsewhere in
the Handbook, including other social science occupations:
economists, market and survey researchers, psychologists, and
urban and regional planners. Many social scientists conduct surveys,
study social problems, teach, and work in museums, performing
tasks similar to those of statisticians; counselors; social workers;
teachers—postsecondary; teachers—preschool, kindergarten, elementary,
middle, and secondary; and archivists, curators, and museum technicians.
Political scientists are concerned with the function of government,
including the legal system, as are lawyers; paralegals and legal
assistants; and judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers.
Many political scientists analyze and report on current events,
much as do news analysts, reporters, and correspondents.
Along with conservation scientists and foresters, atmospheric
scientists, and environmental scientists and hydrologists, geographers
are concerned with the earth’s environment and natural resources.
Geographers also use GIS computer technology to make maps. Other
occupations with similar duties are surveyors, cartographers,
photogrammetrists, and surveying technicians; computer systems
analysts; and computer scientists and database administrators.
see the career database for
Sources of Additional Information
For information about careers in anthropology, contact:
American Anthropological Association, 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite
600, Arlington, VA 22201. Internet: http://www.aaanet.org/
For information about careers in archaeology, contact:
Society for American Archaeology, 900 2nd St. N.E., Suite
12, Washington, DC 20002-3560. Internet: http://www.saa.org/