Social scientists salary & career outlook

Anyone can tell you that people can be complicated. In fact, there are entire disciplines of study dedicated to understanding humans, their cultures and their societies better: the social sciences. Here is a brief look at what social scientists are, how to become one and what the job outlook and salary potential are for this fascinating group of careers.

What are social scientists?

A social scientist is one who studies some facet of human society and relationships. It is a broad title that encompasses a number of fields. The following are just some of the professionals who could be considered social scientists, along with a brief explanation of what each does, as defined by the College Board:

  • Sociologists study people and the way they behave, both as individuals and in groups. These scientists often have specialties, such as urban or rural communities.
  • Criminologists study crimes, including the nature and behavior of the people who commit them.
  • Political scientists study human political affiliations and voting behavior.
  • Archaeologists find and study historic objects to learn about past cultures, both ancient and semi-modern.
  • Demographers use math and statistics to study and document population change, including growth and cultural or geographical distribution.

Social science schools typically provide students with an opportunity to study any of these disciplines, plus several more. Potential students who want to learn more about social scientists and related workers may be able to do so through professional groups like those represented in the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), or through the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which publishes data on a number of the different specialties.

How to become a social scientist

Social scientists and related workers are a diverse group of professionals whose specialties and job duties can vary, so their education requirements vary, too. Generally speaking, however, one who hopes to enter one of these fields should expect to earn at least a bachelor's degree. Social scientists who wish to lead original research or teach at the collegiate level must often earn master's or doctoral degrees, depending on the level of institution in which they hope to teach. In many cases, students can complete at least part of their social science training online, though it is not unusual for some institutions to offer hybrid programs combining computer-based instruction with classroom-based labs.

Salary trends for social scientists and related workers

Because the social science career field can include a number of different job titles, it can be difficult to pin down potential earnings. According to the BLS, the annual median salary for social scientists in the U.S. was $76,770 in 2013, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning up to $47,450 and the top-paid 10 percent earning upwards of $116,060. The industries reporting the highest national mean salaries as of May 2013 were:

  • Business, professional, labor, political or similar organizations: $104,250
  • Scientific, management and technical consulting services: $102,990
  • Other professional, scientific and technical services: $92,380

Earnings for specific jobs within social science can vary widely. For instance, the BLS reports that the national annual median salary for sociologists in 2013 was $72,430. By contrast, anthropologists and archaeologists earned a median national salary of $58,360 for the same period. For those interested in a career in social science, it's a good idea to research salary data for specific jobs of interest.

Location is another factor to consider when estimating your earning potential as income can fluctuate from one state to the next. With that in mind, the BLS reports that the following areas offered the highest mean salaries for social scientists in 2013:

  • Virginia: $103,640
  • District of Columbia: $98,910
  • Hawaii: $88,950

For anthropologists and archaeologists, the highest-paying area in 2013 was Washington, D.C., which had a mean annual salary of $97,330. D.C. was also the best-paying area for sociologists, who had an average annual wage of $105,210 as of May 2013.

Two final factors that can influence your bottom line are experience and education. In general, those who have earned higher degrees or have more experience in the field tend to make more than lesser-trained or -experienced colleagues. For those brand new to the profession, social scientist schools are an excellent place to begin.

Career outlook for social scientists

Career prospects for social science graduates tend to vary by specialty. For example, the BLS projects that employment of sociologists is expected to grow by 15 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is slightly faster than the 11 percent average for all jobs in the U.S. Anthropologists and archaeologists can expect 19 percent growth for the same period, and for political scientists, the BLS predicts 21 percent growth, which is nearly double the national average.


Major and Career Search, The College Board,

Governing Members, Consortium of Social Science Associations,

Occupational Employment and Wages: Anthropologists and Archaeologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,

Occupational Employment and Wages: Social Scientists and Related Workers, All Other, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,

Occupational Employment and Wages: Sociologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,

Anthropologists and Archaeologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,

Political Scientists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,

Sociologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,