Studying human social behavior is the foundation of most careers in sociology. Students seek to understand the dynamics of human emotions, social institutions and personal interactions in relation to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, education and socioeconomic status. Their findings can help inform solutions to social problems, such as health care, crime, race relations and aging. While a bachelor's degree in the field may be suitable for some entry-level positions, employers typically seek candidates with a master's degree in sociology to fill sociologist positions. As an added bonus, advanced degrees often improve earnings.
As of 2012, graduates with a master’s in sociology averaged starting salaries of $43,900 a year, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The top 25 percent made more than $49,100, while the bottom 25 percent made less than $36,500 annually. By comparison, graduates with a bachelor’s in sociology averaged $33,400. The top and bottom 25 percent earned more than $38,900 and less than $26,900, respectively.
Most graduates with an advanced degree in sociology work in positions with the term “sociologist” in the title, reports the University of Notre Dame. On average, sociologists earned $80,820 in 2012. The Bureau of Labor Statistics goes on to estimate that the top 25 percent of earners made more than $96,850, while the bottom 25 percent earned less than $43,280 annually. Those working for the federal government made the most in this occupation, at an average of $97,410 a year.
As with any career, earnings vary by location. Of the states, sociologists in New Jersey earned the highest salaries, at an average of $103,880 a year. Those in the District of Columbia ranked second, earning $100,840, while those in New York were third, bringing home $96,330 annually. The lowest wages reported were in Texas, where the average was $49,820 a year.
The BLS expects employment for sociologists to grow by as much as 18 percent through 2020, slightly faster than the national average for all U.S. occupations, a projected 14 percent. In this relatively small field, the better-than-average growth rate works out to the creation of just 700 new jobs over the decade. Expect stiff competition for jobs, because candidates outnumber available positions.