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Sociologist salary & career outlook

Humans are a social species, and our cultural, familial and societal connections help define us. Sociologists study these connections to better understand who we are, where we come from and where we are going. In essence, sociology is the study and science of society — how humans behave together, make connections and move through life, in social, professional, religious or cultural groups. Sociologists work to develop a keen understanding of our activities, interactions, and political and economic tendencies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sociologists conduct this research using widely accepted scientific methods, reporting their findings for either academic or business gain. Among other duties, sociologists might:

  • Design research projects
  • Collect data through observation, interviews and surveys
  • Analyze results to draw conclusions about the subjects
  • Prepare reports or papers detailing their findings
  • Coordinate efforts with other researchers, clients or policymakers

The BLS says that many sociologists specialize in areas such as health, crime, race, poverty, education or aging, among others.

How to become a sociologist

Because sociology is a research-intensive science, it's essential to have extensive training. The BLS reports that most sociologists need master's degrees or Ph.D.s in sociology, social services, education or public policy. A Ph.D. is usually required for those who are interested in higher level research or want to teach at the college level. The BLS notes that an undergraduate degree often leads to a position as a sociology research assistant, or it could lead to other fields such as social services, administration, management, or even sales and marketing. Whatever credential one chooses to earn, students may be able to complete some training online.

According to the BLS, most sociology degree programs fall into one of two categories: traditional programs or applied, clinical programs. Which one you choose will depend on your career goals. Traditional programs usually lead to advanced degree programs and academia, while clinical, professional programs prepare you more directly for the workplace.

Sociologist salary trends

The higher level of training that sociologists must earn may lead to higher-than-average earnings. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for sociologists nationwide in 2013 was $78,120, with the bottom 10 percent earning $39,790 or less, and the top 10 percent earning an impressive $127,590 or more each year. Where you might fall within this range depends on a number of factors, including your chosen industry. According to the BLS, the following industries reported the highest annual mean salaries for sociologists in 2013:

  • Federal government executive branch: $95,210
  • Scientific research and development services: $86,440
  • Local government: $68,360

Location can also influence your earnings potential significantly. According to the BLS, the following areas reported the highest mean sociologist salaries the same year:

  • District of Columbia: $105,210
  • California: $86,750
  • Maryland: $83,970

Career outlook for sociologists

Demand for sociologists is expected to grow 15 percent during the 2012-22 period, which is faster than average for all occupations. However, because it is an occupation that employs a small number of people, this fast growth is expected to only result in about 400 new jobs nationwide in that 10-year period. This growth should be driven by political, social and business organizations, which will rely on sociologists to share research about human interactions in order to address problems, improve policies and grow the economy. Competition should be tight among Ph.D. holders, but those with bachelor's and master's degrees might potentially find jobs in a number of fields, including social services, education, public policy and others.

As with earnings, location can affect your career outlook. According to the BLS, California, New York and Pennsylvania reported the highest numbers of sociologists employed in 2013, which is a potential indicator of future opportunity. In addition, state labor department data gathered by Projections Central shows that these states have the highest projected growth for sociologists between 2010 and 2020:

  • North Carolina: 33.3 percent projected growth
  • Florida: 21.1 percent projected growth
  • Texas: 17.9 percent projected growth

Since careers for sociologists vary depending on education, experience and location, it's important to research the sociology programs at any college you may be considering. This will help you find a sociology program that suits your career goals.

Sources:

Long Term Occupational Projections for Sociologists, Projections Central,
http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Sociologists, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 1, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193041.htm

Sociologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/sociologists.htm