What Are Some Areas of Research Most Sociologists Study When Going for Their Master’s or Ph.D.?

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If you want to work as a sociologist, one of the highest-paying social science jobs, graduate school is in your future. This is one occupation in which you usually need at least a master’s degree to land an entry-level position, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, just 23 percent of sociologists stop at the master’s degree level, with 77 percent of the field reporting having a doctoral degree, O*NET reported. Before you can embark on your graduate or doctoral education, you need to choose an area of research interest. Sociology is a surprisingly broad area of study, encompassing everything from the social unit of the family to the social aspects of the economy.

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Sociological Study of Family Units

The family unit is generally the first social group to which an individual belongs. It’s also a social relationship in which a great deal of change occurs as children grow and develop into adults and adult family members age into their senior years. Sociological studies of family also touch on many topics related to family life, including family structure, parenting, gender roles in family and work responsibilities. A sociologist researching family behaviors may also study how factors like socioeconomic class, race and ethnicity and religious beliefs affect household behavior patterns and relationships.

Graduate students pursuing research interests in the sociological study of family units may also look at how issues like mass incarceration affect family units and function.

The Sociology of Inequality

Social inequality is, unfortunately, far from over. Sociologists who research inequality look at both modern and historical inequality to understand how issues of inequality have changed over time and how matters of inequality have continued to exist over numerous generations. In examining inequality, sociologists don’t just express the precise ways inequality manifests in society but also the impact of inequality on everything from health and lifespan to educational access and income distribution.

Graduate-level coursework in inequality includes everything from urban inequality and policy to controversies about inequality.

Political and Economic Sociology

Both economics and politics are fields that are affected by, and dramatically affect, social groups and institutions. Additionally, both fields tend to emphasize the distribution of and struggle for resources, such as governing power and financial wealth.

Introductory courses in political sociology often focus on the relationship an individual constituent has with their governing state. The subject matter in the study of political sociology encompasses constituents’ representation in democratic processes and systems, welfare state policies and social movements for or against political policies. The subfield of economic sociology, on the other hand, looks at social institutions and relationships in the context of economic markets and work and entrepreneurship. Everything from the social aspects of labor markets to the intersection of law and the economy can fit under the category of economic sociology.

A graduate student interested in political sociology may take classes in corruption and the transformation of socialist societies, while students pursuing economic sociology research may study the connections between money, work and social life.

Social Network Analysis

Don’t confuse the social network studied in sociology with social networking websites. Although there probably is a lot to learn about human behavior from social media, the sociological field of social network analysis instead looks at all of the different relationships and connections individuals develop in a society. Your social network includes the family household in which you live, the community of which you are a part, the connections that can help you find a job and so much more.

A sociology course on networks may cover much more than you would think – from the computational tools used in analyzing and graphing network relationships to the “small world” effect that links individuals within a society.

Social Demography

The term “demographics” refers to the statistical study and data relating to populations. Sociologists who focus on social demography examine populations, including changes in populations over time and the composition and distribution of populations. The types of matters that concern social demography researchers include immigration, health disparities among marginalized populations or areas, poverty and the formation of marriage unions and families with children.

A course in population dynamics, which covers how social and economic matters intersect with demographic processes, is a class that would be of interest if you want to study social demography.

Mathematical Sociology

If you’re particularly interested in the mathematical and statistical models that sociologists use in their inquiries, you might want to pursue coursework and research in mathematical sociology. This field emphasizes the mathematical tools used in sociology, including modeling methods that can be manipulated for experimental purposes and computer simulation techniques. All sociologists use the statistical and mathematical tools of quantitative analysis in their social research work, but not all sociologists opt to emphasize mathematical sociology as one of their areas of focus.

A course in statistics for sociological research may not be listed as a mathematics course, but it is a math-heavy area of study that may build upon math competencies in probability, game theory and linear algebra.

Additional Resources

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