Anthropology is a diverse and holistic field that studies historical and current human culture and societies. Some specific areas of study and research include linguistics, conflict and war, economic development and religion. Although a career in anthropology offers many specialties, consider the positive and negative aspects of the career before committing to your path.
A positive aspect of a career in anthropology is the opportunity to pursue several career paths as an anthropologist. The government employs anthropologists in areas such as international development, forensic anthropology and cultural resource management. Anthropologists in the academic fields teach classes, advise students and complete research projects. Corporations and private businesses also employ anthropologists in areas such as market research. Finally, nonprofit organizations hire anthropologists to create, implement and manage aid programs.
In addition to choosing career paths with different types of employers, you also benefit from the opportunity to choose from several disciplines within the anthropological field. You can approach anthropology from a cultural and sociological viewpoint and explore and learn from the customs of other cultures in areas such as war, marriage and family, sexuality and economics. Biological anthropologists study violence, health and disease in past and present cultures, as well as examining human evolution. Linguistic anthropology looks at the relationships between language, culture and cognition. Archaeology is also a sub-field of anthropology and studies past cultures through the material remains and ruins.
Another positive aspect of a career in anthropology is the opportunity to travel. While not every position includes travel, many research projects are conducted overseas and focus on foreign cultures. For example, anthropologists at Vanderbilt University maintain projects throughout Latin America in countries such as Peru, Chile and Guatemala.
One negative about becoming an anthropologist is that you will not be able to enter the field quickly. Anthropologists must first spend many years completing an advanced degree. Although some research assistant positions only require a four-year bachelor's degree, most positions require at least a two-year master's degree. To be considered for advanced positions, especially those directing projects in other countries, a Ph.D. is required. In addition, you must have relevant work experience, which may include an internship or field work included in the degree program.
Another negative aspect of a career in anthropology is a lower-than-average salary range. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2010 the median salary for anthropologists and archaeologists was $54,230. This is lower than the median salary of $67,090 for all social scientists. Anthropologists working for the federal government earn more than those in other industries, earning a median salary of $70,000. The lowest-paid anthropologists, earning a median salary of $44,280, are those working in education.
Limited job opportunities are another negative to consider before pursuing a career as an anthropologist. The field is competitive because it consists of only approximately 6,100 jobs. Between 2010 and 2020, employment of archaeologists and anthropologists is expected to grow 21 percent, the BLS states. Although this is greater than the 14 percent expected for all occupations, only 1,300 new job openings are projected.
- National Association for the Practice of Anthropology: Anthropologists at Work – Responses to Student Questions About Anthropology Careers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Anthropologists and Archaeologists
- American Anthropological Association: Anthropological Careers
- Vanderbilt University: The Field of Anthropology
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