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How Much Do Forensic Anthropologists Make

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Work in a Crime Lab as You Support Your Family

Forensic anthropologists work with law enforcement professionals to help determine information about human remains, including age, time of death, dental history and gender. If you are the kind of person who loves to solve mysteries, finds great meaning in history and thrives working under emotionally and physically challenging circumstances, a career as a forensic anthropologist could be right up your alley. You are likely to earn a dependable income to help support your children as you set the example of following your dreams and making a difference for others.

Job Description

Forensic anthropologists help excavate and examine human remains to determine details about the deceased that could be helpful to law enforcement or the military in solving a crime.

Daily tasks vary, based on the circumstances of particular cases, but you'll generally be spending time at crime scenes, examining human remains in the lab, compiling reports or testifying in court about your expert findings.

Forensic anthropologists gather information that helps create a story about what might have happened leading up to a person's death. Trauma to bones, age and condition of the bones, dental records and information from the crime scene are helpful in assembling this narrative.

Education Requirements

Forensic anthropology is a subset of physical anthropology, so to break into the field you need to earn an undergraduate degree in physical anthropology, followed by a doctoral degree in physical anthropology, or a related field like osteology or bioarchaeology.

Graduate programs normally take around five years to complete, so plan to spend nearly a decade in school.

While certification is not required to work in the field, it certainly makes you stand out from the crowd in this competitive job. The American Board of Forensic Anthropology requires a doctoral degree and three years of experience in the field prior to sitting for its examination.

The median annual income for all anthropologists and archaeologists is $63,190, which means half earn more than this, while the other half earn less. The top 10 percent earn more than $99,590, while the bottom 10 percent earn less than $36,910. Those at the top of the field who go on to become directors in forensic anthropology labs earn a median annual salary of $107,600, so if you enjoy leadership, consider setting your sights on one of these top positions. As an alternative, some forensic anthropologists choose to become professors at colleges or universities.

The median annual income for all post-secondary teachers is $75,430, and the position is likely to have more predictable and flexible hours than working with crime teams and in the lab. To secure one of these highly competitive professorships, establish yourself as an expert in the field by working in more traditional settings first, as well as by attending conferences, networking, and publishing in journals and books.

About the Industry

Forensic anthropologists spend a great deal of time working in labs with law enforcement, the military or in academic settings. Those who work with law enforcement and the military may have unpredictable hours, especially when crime teams discover an area that needs excavating or a particular case is high profile.

Court deadlines can also cause a temporary increase in work hours. It is common to spend some time working within the court system, testifying on cases.

Forensic anthropologists in academia still spend a good amount of time in the lab, but are likely to enjoy the flexibility of setting their own office hours for students and classes, which can work well for those raising little ones.

Years of Experience

Forensic anthropologists earn a stable income after spending several years in school prior to becoming established in the field. One prediction of salary over the course of a career looks like this:

  • Starting: 

    $36,910
    * Junior: 

    $48,240
    * Experienced: 

    $63,190
    * Senior: 

    $81,430
    * Top End: 

    $99,590.

If you've got your sights set on leadership after all those years in school, the director of a forensic anthropology lab earns a bit more. One projection for that position looks like this:

  • 1 to 3 years:

    $80,068
    4 to 6 years: $100,242
    7 to 9 years: 

    $106,783
    10 to 14 years: $123,955
    15 or more years: $131,687.

Job Growth Trend

Job opportunities for forensic anthropologists are expected to increase by 4 percent over the next decade, which is slower than in other industries. The slowdown is attributed to less research in the social sciences and humanities.

To increase your chances of landing a position in this fiercely competitive field, dedicate your efforts toward excelling academically to land internships and opportunities for field experience while in school.

Make connections through conferences and field experience; be flexible with your work hours and willing to devote considerable time to your career in the beginning.