Social Scientists, Other
About half worked for Federal, State, and local governments, mostly for the
The educational attainment of social scientists is among the highest of all
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.
Nature of the Work
The major social science occupations covered in this statement include
anthropologists, archaeologists, geographers, historians, political scientists,
and sociologists. (Economists, market and survey researchers, psychologists, and
urban and regional planners are covered elsewhere in the Handbook.)
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
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
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
persons 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
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 physical exertion.
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 masters
degrees in applied specialties usually have better opportunities outside of
colleges and universities, although the situation varies by field. Graduates
with a masters degree in a social science may qualify for teaching positions in
community colleges. Bachelors degree holders have limited opportunities and, in
most social science occupations, do not qualify for professional positions. The
bachelors 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 GIS
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. (For more information,
see teacher spostsecondary and teachers preschool, kindergarten, elementary,
middle, and secondary elsewhere in the Handbook.) 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>, and
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
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 bachelors 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 masters 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
Along with conservation scientists and foresters, atmospheric scientists, and
environmental scientists and hydrologists, geographers are concerned with the
earths 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.
Sources of Additional Information
Detailed information about economists, market and survey researchers,
psychologists, and urban and regional planners is presented elsewhere in the
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
Archaeological Institute of America, 656 Beacon St., 6th Floor, Boston, MA
02215-2006. Internet: http://www.archaeological.org
For information about careers in geography, contact:
Association of American Geographers, 1710 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC
20009-3198. Internet: http://www.aag.org
Information on careers for historians is available from:
American Historical Association, 400 A St. S.E., Washington, DC 20003-3889.
For information about careers in political science, contact:
American Political Science Association, 1527 New Hampshire Ave. N.W.,
Washington, DC 20036-1206. Internet: http://www.apsanet.org
National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, 1120 G St.
N.W., Suite 730, Washington, DC 20005-3869. Internet: http://www.naspaa.org
Information about careers in sociology is available from:
American Sociological Association, 1307 New York Ave. N.W., Suite 700,
Washington, DC 20005-4712. Internet: http://www.asanet.org
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2006-07 Edition, Social Scientists, Other, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos054.htm
(visited April 06, 2006).