Are you fascinated by human behavior, history, and culture? Do you want to learn more about political and economic systems? If you are curious about how humans interact within a society, consider the best-paying social science jobs out there.
Why Work in the Social Sciences?
Why might prospective students consider pursuing social scientist jobs? The reason isn’t only because social science majors are some of the richest and most interesting fields of study. Earning a social science degree can also prepare students for a variety of different career paths. Some jobs with a social science degree offer high earning potential.
Aside from salary potential, jobs in social science can be very fulfilling. Working in social science gives you the chance to make a difference in the world by influencing public policy or helping people.
Social Science Examples
To enter the field of social sciences, you will need some form of social science degree. You can find a variety of social science degrees at numerous colleges and universities. This broad area of study encompasses several subjects and distinct majors. Interdisciplinary fields of study may also be part of a social science degree program.
Examples of social sciences include:
- Gender and Women’s Studies
- Ethnic Studies
- Political Science
Many social science careers are both financially and personally fulfilling. Some of the examples of social science jobs listed below even earn six-figure salaries.
The Skills You Can Learn by Studying Social Science
Majoring in social science isn’t just about getting a degree, but about developing skills in your field of study.
Students often learn specific skills in the course of pursuing a social science degree. Examples of the specific and technical skills social science graduates may learn include:
- How to use Geographic Information System (GIS) as a geographer
- How to perform labor-intensive research in archives full of historical documents as historians
- How to clean, preserve and arrange collections of artifacts as a museum technician
Some of the skills social science students develop include:
- Research skills: The social sciences use scientific methodology to gather data. From this data, they can draw interpretations. Social science students must develop skills in both quantitative research and qualitative research. Quantitative research pertains to measurable or numeric data. Qualitative research pertains to non-numerical information learned through observation or interviews. Research skills are crucial for advancing knowledge of one’s social science field.
Analytical skills: What do social scientists do once they have gained data through their quantitative and qualitative research? They need to make meaning out of this data. Doing so requires strong analytical skills. Social science majors need to learn how to perform both quantitative and qualitative analyses of data. Quantitative analyses are numerical analyses of statistical data. Qualitative analyses allow social scientists to make sense of the key concepts of a social phenomenon.
Critical thinking skills: Skills in critical thinking are essential in social science. Social science professionals think critically about the information they need and how best to attain it. They think critically about how to interpret the quantitative and qualitative data they uncover. They also need this skill to understand the broader impacts of their findings.
Decision-making skills: Making decisions is part of the work of many social science careers. Social science professionals may be responsible for making many kinds of decisions. What grant funding should they apply for? How should they proceed with research efforts? Which artifacts should they include in museum collections? Making decisions in jobs in social science isn’t always straightforward. For example, public policies often have complex social causes and effects. Policy analysts may have to recommend the policy decisions that offer the most benefits with the fewest tradeoffs.
- Communication skills: Part of many social science careers is expressing one’s findings. Social science professionals do this through written or oral forms of communication. Examples include written reports, presentations at conferences and exhibitions used to educate laypeople. Strong communication skills help with interviewing sources. This includes skills in active listening.
What Are the Highest-Paying Social Science Careers?
Is one of these careers in social science the right choice for you? Browse our list of the top 10 highest-paying social science careers to find the perfect career path for you. If you are looking for social science careers that are in demand and offer strong earning potential, you’re in the right place.
1. Political Scientist
If you have an interest in politics, then a career as a political scientist might be the right choice for you. This is the highest-paid job in the social sciences profession, based on median salary.
Political scientists investigate how political systems originated and progressed and how they currently operate. They follow political trends and develop new political policies and ideas.
As scientists, these social science professionals collect and analyze data. For example, they study historical texts, as well as the statistics behind election results and surveys. Based on their findings, they predict patterns and trends relating to politics, the economy, and social changes. Political scientists also test new and current ideologies, policies, laws, and current events.
So, where do political scientists find jobs? The number of possible workplaces for these professionals is surprising. Many political scientists – more than 50% – work for the federal government. Another common employment industry for this social science occupation is political lobbying groups.
Other examples of work environments for a political scientist include:
- Academic and educational institutions
- Labor organizations
- Nonprofit organizations
- Think tanks
As of 2021, around 6,300 political scientists work working in America, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The occupation is likely to grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031.
How Much Do Political Scientists Earn?
As of 2021, the BLs reported a median annual salary of $122,510 for political scientists. That works out to nearly $60 per hour.
The median salary is the midpoint salary workers in this occupation make in a year. Some political scientists earn more and others earn less. The highest-paid 10% of this profession earned more than $172,490 in 2021. The lowest-paid 10% of the field reported earnings of less than $61,480, according to the BLS.
What Education Do You Need to Be a Political Scientist?
To work in most jobs in political science, you need a formal social science education. The BLS reported a master’s degree as the minimum level of education typically required for this career. Most aspiring political scientists major in political science in college. Majoring in public administration, public policy or public affairs can also prepare you for this social science career path.
Many political science degree programs allow students to focus some of their studies on an area of interest within the field. Popular specialization options in a degree in political science include:
- American politics
- International relations
- Comparative politics
- Political theory
You hear a lot about the economy in the news. How would you like to earn a living researching not only the numbers but the factors behind economic data?
Economist is another social science career with a six-figure median salary.
Economists study how goods, services, and resources are produced and distributed. They create and conduct surveys and compile and analyze the results.
Economists draw from current data and historical trends to predict changes and patterns in the economy. They help companies, individuals, and government weather economic changes. Part of the job of an economist is to present their findings and forecasts. To do this, they use many forms of communication, from charts and tables to journal articles.
The economy isn’t just about money but about resources of all kinds. Economists investigate the costs of education, energy, healthcare and consumer products.
Economists may work in the following fields:
- Financial economics
- Industrial organization economics
- International economics
- Labor economics
- Macroeconomics and microeconomics
- Public finances
Some of the job responsibilities that economists in government roles perform include:
- Predicting funding and spending needs
- Studying the economic ramifications of policies and laws
- Gathering and evaluating information about the national economy
The economists who find employment with private corporations often evaluate the demand for and sales of a product or service. They give advice to business leaders on how the economy can improve their profits.
Economists who work in think tanks usually research economic issues. They share their findings and predictions in newspapers and journals.
How Much Do Economists Earn?
The median salary the BLS reported for economists in 2021 was $105,630. The top 10% of earners in this occupation made more than $193,690, while the bottom 10% of earners made $62,460.
What Education Do You Need to Become an Economist?
For most economist roles, a bachelor’s degree in social science isn’t enough. Having a bachelor’s degree in economics will only qualify workers for some entry-level economist roles. If you want access to more extensive job opportunities in the field of economics, you will need at least a master’s degree in economics. Some economists pursue a Ph.D. in economics in areas like the following:
Theoretical and applied econometrics
3. Industrial-Organizational Psychologist
The field of industrial-organizational psychology is dedicated to studying human behavior in the workplace. Industrial-organizational psychologists put the same principles and research methods used in the broader field of psychology to use in the work environment.
The field of industrial-organizational psychology has a place in a wide range of departments. These departments include:
- Business administration
- Human resources
These social science professionals often work with management to hire and train employees, create company policies, and plan the growth and development of the business. They seek to solve workplace problems, such as improving productivity and increasing morale.
Industrial-organizational psychologists may investigate a variety of topics involving workplace behavior, such as:
- Team effectiveness
- Employee motivation
- Occupational stress
- Safety risks and job performance
Industrial-organizational psychologists use their knowledge to help companies select, train and retain the right employees. They make the work environment a more productive one by utilizing their expertise in how the human mind works.
How Much Do Industrial-Organizational Psychologists Earn?
What Education Do You Need to Become an Industrial-Organization Psychologist?
While most psychologist roles require a doctorate, industrial-organizational psychologist is an exception. You can qualify for this social science career with a master’s in industrial-organizational psychology.
These graduate-level programs typically include coursework in areas like the following:
- The foundations and methods of industrial-organizational psychology
- Organizational behavior
- Organizational management
If you’re interested in the way people interact, a career in sociology could be right for you. Sociologists investigate social interactions between and among humans.
Sociologists observe interactions within and across:
- Social institutions
- Groups and relationships
Sociologists develop theories to explain these interactions and social processes. To test their theories, sociologists conduct research according to the scientific method. Sociologists use surveys, interviews with subjects and their own observations to gather data.
Once a research study is complete, sociologists present their findings through reports, journal articles and presentations. Often, the work of sociologists becomes the basis for public policy reforms.
Sociologists collaborate with practitioners in other fields, including educators, lawmakers, policymakers, administrators, social workers and other social science professionals. They determine how social forces– and related factors like economic forces, political forces and religious forces – influence behavior. Part of sociologists’ work is to find solutions to these problems.
The largest share of the sociologist occupation, 41%, worked in the field of research and development in the social sciences and humanities as of 2021, the BLS reported. Sociologists also work in universities, management and scientific consulting firms and government roles.
The study of sociology is broad, encompassing many different types of social relationships and institutions. Most sociologists focus their work on a specific area of the field.
Concentration areas within the field of sociology include:
How Much Do Sociologists Earn?
The median salary the BLS reported for sociologists as of 2021 was $92,910. The major industry of employment for this field that paid the highest salaries was state government, where the median wage was $105,120 per year. In the field of research and development in the social sciences and humanities, the median salary amounted to $99,640. In comparison, sociologists working for the educational services industry made significantly less, with a median salary of $64,670.
What Education Do You Need to Become a Sociologist?
How do you become a sociologist? Sociologists need a degree from educational institutions like colleges and universities. With only a bachelor’s degree, you’re more likely to find entry-level roles in related areas like community services, social services, education and public policy than actual sociologist positions. If you want to be a sociologist, you will need at least a master’s – and potentially a Ph.D. – in sociology.
Do you have an interest in both the physical and the social sciences? A career in geography will expose you to both.
Geographers research the earth, including:
- The physical features of the land
- The cultures that inhabit the land
- The political structures in place within a culture
Because the field of geography is so broad, most geographers specialize on certain aspects of the discipline. Specialists within the field of geography include:
- Physical geographers
- Economic geographers
- Political geographers
- Cultural geographers
- Human geographers
- Medical geographers
- Environmental geographers
- Regional geographers
- Urban geographers
Each type of specialist must have a thorough background in both general geography and their chosen specialty. Geographers may provide guidance to professionals outside the social sciences. This work may include everything from helping governments develop policies and laws to helping businesses create effective marketing strategies.
Geographers are researchers. To collect their research data, geographers study data and research materials like the following:
- Satellite imagery
- Census responses
Geographers also perform fieldwork of their own. Visiting the region they’re studying allows them to make their own observations.
Research in the field of geography encompasses both numbers and statistics and interviews and surveys of the humans inhabiting the region. During the course of their research, geographers use technologies such as:
- Remote sensing
- Geographic information systems (GIS)
- Global positioning systems (GPS)
They collect and assess geographic data and identify patterns. Geographers share their findings in presentations, written reports and visual modes such as maps, diagrams, and graphs.
Each type of specialist must have a thorough background in both geography and their chosen specialty. Geographers may provide guidance to professionals outside the social sciences. This includes helping governments develop policies and laws and helping businesses create effective marketing strategies.
How Much Do Geographers Earn?
The BLS reported a median salary of $85,220 per year for geographers in 2021. The best-paid geographers earned more than $118,380 per year. That’s more than twice what the lowest-paid 10% of the occupation earned, which was less than $53,410.
What Education Do You Need to Become a Geographer?
Geographer is one social science professional for which graduate education isn’t always necessary. The BLS listed a bachelor’s degree as the minimum level of education required to work as a geographer. In this social science degree program, students will usually take classes in subjects like the following:
- Earth systems
- Human geography
- Theory of geography
- Environmental geography
- Geographical research methods
Often, these programs are broad but customizable, allowing students to pursue an area of specialization.
Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree in Geography, you might consider advancing your education at the master’s level. Having a master’s or a Ph.D. is particularly valuable if you want to work in a research position, according to the BLS.
Do you often wonder why people think, feel and behave in certain ways? A career in psychology could be in your future.
To put it simply, psychologists investigate human behavior. Some of the ways psychologists may go about studying human behavior include:
- Performing research studies in laboratories to learn about brain function and behavior
- Gathering and evaluating information gained from their own observations
- Gaining information using tests, surveys and interviews with human subjects
A goal among psychologists is to develop a thorough understanding of behavior patterns. This includes how thoughts, beliefs, and emotions contribute to behavior.
Psychologists work in many different environments, where they perform a variety of job roles. Work environments for psychologists include:
- Inpatient and outpatient healthcare facilities
- Private practices
- Social assistance programs
- Research centers
Clinical psychologists are healthcare workers. They diagnose and treat mental health disorders using interventions like psychotherapy, behavioral modification and, in certain states, medication.
Counseling psychologists guide patients in understanding and solving problems in their lives.
School psychologists work in academic services. They help students cope with learning and behavioral problems and reach educational goals.
What about the different types of psychologists that focus more on research? Developmental psychologists investigate the psychological process of growing and aging – mostly among children but sometimes among senior citizens. Social psychologists research the effect of social interactions on human behavior. Forensic psychologists work in the legal system. They testify in court about psychological factors in a criminal, civil or family case.
How Much Do Psychologists Earn?
For the psychologist occupation as a whole, the BLS reported a median wage of $81,040 per year as of 2021. The best-paid psychologists reported earnings above $133,890, while the lowest-paid 10% of the profession earned less than $47,850.
What Education Do I Need to Become a Psychologist?
Most types of psychologists need a doctorate. Practicing psychologists often need to attain a doctoral degree to be licensed. Research psychologists need an extensive education to advance the field of psychological knowledge. There are exceptions, however. Some school psychologists have a specialist-level degree, like the Education Specialist (Ed.S.).
Social science majors pursuing a doctorate in education can choose from the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology and the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. The Ph.D. is the traditional doctorate and has historically been more research-oriented. The Psy.D. degree is more practitioner-focused.
7. Urban and Regional Planner
Land is a valuable but finite resource. Urban and regional planners develop plans for using available land.
The plans urban and regional planners develop may focus on objectives like the following:
- Establishing new communities
- Enlarging existing communities to adjust to population increases
- Enhancing outdated facilities
How do urban and regional planners being the complex undertaking of planning land development? First, urban and regional planners determine a community’s needs. They collect and assess information. Urban and regional planners use GIS systems to display data on electronic maps, as well as statistical software programs to analyze numerical data.
Part of urban and regional planners’ work is to collaborate with land developers and public officials. They make sure plans and proposals meet all environmental regulations as well as zoning and building codes. Some urban and regional planners also supervise and coordinate community land-use projects.
More than two-thirds of all urban and regional planners worked for local governments as of 2021, the BLS reported. The rest find employment in industries such as:
- Architecture and engineering services
- Management, scientific and technical consulting services
- The federal government
Urban and regional planners generally focus on identifying and meeting the needs of a community by creating and updating facilities. However, there are many different ways to use land. The best use for any given stretch of land depends on the needs of the community around it. In their plans, urban and regional planners may develop uses for land that range from schools to homeless shelters and parks to residential and commercial property developments.
As you might expect, planning these diverse types of land use requires expertise in a variety of different areas. Urban and regional planners often specialize in planning certain types of land use. Examples of the areas of specialization an urban or regional planner may focus on include:
- Economic development
- Environmental and natural resources planning
- Land use and code enforcement
- Urban design planning
How Much Do Urban and Regional Planners Earn?
For urban and regional planners, the median salary in 2021 was $78,500, according to the BLS. The urban and regional planners who brought home the highest salaries made more than $119,340. Those in the lowest income group earned less than $48,720 per year.
Although the federal government employed just 2% of the occupation in 2021, it paid the highest among major industries of employment, with a median salary of $101,860. Urban and regional planners working for local governments earned considerably less. For them, the median wage was $77,290 per year.
What Education Do I Need to Become an Urban or Regional Planner?
As is the case in many careers with a social science degree, a bachelor’s degree may not be enough if you want to become an urban or regional planner. With a bachelor’s degree, the best you can hope for is usually a junior planner or assistant role. Most urban and regional planners need a master’s degree. Furthermore, students interested in this career path should look for a graduate degree in urban or regional planning that is accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board, the BLS reported.
If you have an interest in the past, a career as a historian could be for you. Historian is the name for the social science professional who is primarily concerned with the study of the past.
In their work, historians comb through books, government records, photographs, archived articles, artifacts and historical texts. They assess these documents to learn if they are authentic. They may translate the contents of texts that are written in other languages or transcribe handwritten documents. Some historians work to preserve historical documents in safe locations, such as historic sites and museums.
Through their work, historians expand our understanding of the past. They may publish their findings in scholarly articles or books as well as create educational exhibits at museums and historical associations.
Some historians study ancient cultures, figures and events primarily because these topics are interesting. In other cases, historians investigate history for current and practical purposes. Examples of this application of the study of history include informing government policies and shedding light on the historical factors involved in legal matters.
More than half of all historians work for the government. The federal government employs most government historians, accounting for 23% of the occupation as a whole. Both local governments and state governments employ another 15% of the profession. Many historians – a full 25% of the occupation – work for the professional, scientific and technical services industry.
Historians work in a variety of environments, including:
- Historical societies
- Nonprofit organizations
- Consulting firms
- Research organizations
Many historians focus on particular aspects of the past. For example, a historian may be an expert on certain historic battle sites or on the history of particular religious groups.
How Much Does a Historian Earn?
As a whole, historians earn somewhat less than some of the more lucrative roles on our list of jobs with a social science degree. The median salary the BLS reported amounted to $63,940 as of 2021. The highest-earning historians are well off, with salaries above $118,380. For the lowest-earning 10% of historians, annual earnings amount to less than $37,310
What Education Do You Need to Become a Historian?
Most historians earn a social science degree at the master’s or doctoral level. Obviously, history is a popular field of study for aspiring historians. You could also prepare for a career in this field by earning a degree in areas like archival management, museum studies or historical preservation.
9. Anthropologist and Archeologist
Historians aren’t the only ones concerned with the past. Anthropologists and archeologists, too, often study human cultures throughout history. However, anthropologists and archeologists are more concerned with the development and behaviors of specific cultures than with historical events and texts. Another difference between these occupations is that, while historians primarily care about advancing knowledge of the past, some anthropologists focus on modern cultures and societies living anywhere in the world.
What is the difference between anthropologists and archeologists? Generally, anthropologists are concerned with cultural research relating to modern cultures, often through observation and interviews. Archeologists work primarily with artifacts from the past.
As scientists, anthropologists and archeologists do the hands-on work of researching the cultures and societies in which they are interested. For the study of modern societies, this work may entail direct observation and interviews with sources who are part of that culture. Studying ancient societies may mean excavating the sites of these long-gone civilizations.
How Much Do Anthropologists and Archeologists Earn?
The median salary for all anthropologists and archeologists amounted to $61,910 in 2021, according to the BLS. The top-earning anthropologists and archeologists reported wages above $99,830 per year. For the 10% of the field that earned the lowest wages, salaries were below $37,870 annually.
What Education Do You Need to Become an Anthropologist or Archeologist?
10. Survey Researcher
Many social science careers rely at least in part on information gleaned through survey responses. However, research data is only as good as the methodology used to collect it. A flawed survey or experiment design will result in inaccurate data. That’s where survey researchers come in.
Survey researchers specialize in creating quality surveys and interpreting the information that results. They begin crafting a survey by performing background research on the subject. This knowledge informs the questions they ask and the format of the survey. Survey researchers consider the purpose of the survey and then choose the survey methods most appropriate for that purpose.
Before going out to gather data through surveys and questionnaires, survey researchers test their surveys. They want to make sure that subjects will understand their questions and that their questions are unbiased. Survey researchers must identify an appropriate population to whom they will administer surveys.
To compile the results of their research, survey researchers use their knowledge of statistics. They plug their data into statistical software so they can run analyses of their information. To quickly convey their findings, survey researchers may create tables and fact sheets.
Survey researchers work in:
- Academic institutions
- Nonprofit organizations
- Research firms
- Government agencies
- Polling organizations
The surveys that survey researchers create may cover a wide range of topics, from scientific to political and social to economic.
How Much Do Survey Researchers Earn?
The BLS reported a median annual salary of $59,740 for survey researchers in 2021. While the best-paid survey researchers earned six figures, the lowest-paid 10% of the field reported earnings of less than $26,360.
Earnings for survey researchers depend on part on their industry of employment. The scientific research and development services industry paid survey researchers a median salary of $62,410 per year. The educational services industry paid a median annual wage of $48,210 for this occupation.
What Degree Do I Need to Become a Survey Researcher?
Education: Master’s Degree in Survey Research, Statistics or Marketing Research
Editor’s Note: The salary and education information in this article came from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS is a federal agency that measures and reports on the labor market and various occupations. This data was last updated in 2023 based on the most recent BLS data available.
In any profession, earning potential and education requirements vary across locations and employers. Students considering a career with a social science degree should view this article as a guide only. As they prepare for a career, they should do further research.
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- Top 10 Paying Jobs That Involve Math
- Top 10 Paying Jobs With an Associate’s Degree
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