What Is an Anthropologist?

••• A physical anthropologist studies a human skull. Gerard Fritz / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Anthropologists are responsible for much of what we know about how ancient societies worked, what they valued, and sometimes even why they fell. Anthropologists help everyone from governments to advertising agencies to universities comprehend what is happening now and how to effectively communicate with people.

Job Description

Anthropologists, along with archaeologists, study human beings. They look at our origin, development, and behavior.

There are three main types of anthropologists: cultural, physical, and linguistic. A cultural anthropologist studies groups' customs, social structures, and cultures. A physical or biological anthropologist does research on the evolution of humans. A linguistic anthropologist specializes in communication among people.

Employment Facts

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were just over 7,600 and archaeologists in 2016. Research organizations, museums, colleges and universities and the federal government employed many of them. Others worked for local governments and private consulting firms.

When you think of an anthropologist, you may picture someone traveling the world in order to gather information about the people he or she is studying. While many anthropologists do fieldwork, others spend the majority of their time working in offices and laboratories.

Many have full-time jobs and work regular hours. When working out in the field, anthropologists often put in long hours and don't adhere to a typical 9-to-5 schedule.

Educational Requirements

There are fairly high educational requirements to work as an anthropologist. You will need a master's degree in anthropology, at the minimum.

It typically takes two years to earn a master's degree after first spending four years in college earning a bachelor's degree. If you want to teach at a college or university, you must earn a doctoral degree (Ph.D.). This will take an additional several years. There aren't many positions available to those who have only a bachelor's degree, but if you have one, you may be able to find work as a laboratory, field, or research assistant. You may gain experience by doing an internship, which is a must for all entry-level jobs in this field regardless of the degree you hold.

Other Requirements

In order to collaborate on research and present their findings, anthropologists need excellent communication skills. Perseverance is another required trait, given the number of years anthropologists spend working on individual projects. Anthropologists should also have excellent critical thinking, analytical, and investigative skills.

Job Outlook

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job outlook for anthropologists will be good through 2026. While the rate of growth will be slower than other averages, 300 new jobs are expected to be added between 2016 and 2026.

Earning Potential

Anthropologists earned a median annual salary of $63,190 and median hourly earnings of $30.38 in May 2016.

A Day in an Anthropologist's Life

Anthropologists work in a variety of settings including universities, advertising agencies, consulting firms, and corporations. Based on online job ads for anthropologists on , some typical job duties could include:

  • University: Teach courses at all levels of the curriculum including an introduction to cultural anthropology and required theory courses for the major. Conduct research with undergraduate students.
  • Advertising agency: Execute competitive research and audits to fuel insights for clients and project-based work.
  • Market research company: Play the role of lead interviewer in the gathering of insights, primarily through ethnography, in-depth interviews, online community moderation.
  • Automobile manufacturer (Research & Development): Design and plan research investigations.
  • Consulting firm: Develop field plans and fieldwork execution, and associated reporting.

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionAnnual Salary (2016)Educational Requirements

Examines groups, cultures, and organizations in order to learn about society and social behavior$79,750Master's degree or Ph.D. in sociology

Survey Researcher

Designs and conducts surveys about people's opinions$54,470Master's degree or Ph.D. in marketing or survey research, statistics, and the social sciences
Forensic Science TechnicianGathers, documents, and analyzes crime evidence$56,750Bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology or forensic science.
Studies historical documents and sources in order to learn about the past$55,110Master's degree or Ph.D. in history