NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Anthropology. The study of cultures, past and present. Sounds interesting enough as a choice of majors. Until realism sets in.|
Archaeological digs, exciting though they may be, don't exactly qualify as a family-friendly job. Museum work, by all accounts, is tough to come by. And you're not particularly inclined to become a "lifer" on campus, chasing a Ph.D and an academic post.
Time to pursue a more practical line of work?
For those willing to use some creativity, industry veterans say an anthropology degree gives college grads the tools they need to excel in a broad range of careers, from nonprofits to the private sector. And, they add, as the economy becomes increasingly global, demand for anthropologists is expected to grow.
"Anthropological study provides training particularly well suited to the 21st century," the American Anthropological Association writes in its latest brochure, called Careers in Anthropology. "The economy will be increasingly international; workforces and markets, increasingly diverse; participatory management and decision making, increasingly important; communication skills, increasingly in demand."
Anthropology, a division of the social sciences, is the study of humankind, from how we evolved to the cultural development and behavior of individuals.
According to the AAA, the four primary fields of research-based anthropology are sociocultural, physical/biological, archaeology and linguistic anthropology. Professionals often specialize in one or more geographic regions -- for example, Latin America, the British Isles, Eastern Europe and North America.
Here's what each field focuses on, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Sociocultural anthropologists study customs and culture of groups in settings that vary from nonindustrial societies to modern urban centers.
- Archeologists recover and examine material evidence such as ruins, pottery and tools remaining from past human cultures to determine the history, customs and living habits of earlier civilizations. (Some schools offer archeology as a separate degree.)
- Linguistic anthropologists study the role of language in various cultures.
- Biological-physical anthropologists study the evolution of the human body, look for the earliest evidence of human life, and analyze how culture and biology influence one another.
As college graduates go, anthropologists are an educated bunch.
Some 46 percent of all grads with a bachelor's degree in anthropology or archeology eventually go on for a higher degree, according to The College Majors Handbook, published by JIST Works, Inc.
As with most scholastic disciplines, a doctorate degree is necessary to teach on the collegiate level and to spearhead most research projects.
A bachelor's degree in the field qualifies grads to teach on the elementary and secondary school levels, provided they obtain the required state certifications.
"Bachelor's degree holders (in anthropology) have limited opportunities and in most social science occupations do not quality for 'professional' positions," the BLS notes in its latest Occupational Outlook notes. "The bachelor's degree, however, does provide suitable background for many different kinds of entry-level jobs, such as research assistant, administrative aide, or management and sales trainee."
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Going for the gold
Those who become anthropologists in the traditional sense often establish careers in anthropology departments, social science departments, and a variety of other departments or programs, such as medicine, epidemiology, forensic anthropology, public health, ethnic, community or area studies, linguistics, cognitive psychology, and neural science.
But far more break from the field entirely, especially those with an undergraduate level degree.
According to the Handbook, nearly 60 percent of anthropology and archeology majors who complete only a bachelor's degree, end up working in fields that are unrelated to their field of study. That's because unrelated jobs generally pay better and are more readily available.
Pinpointing where they land in the job market, however, is easier said than done.
The most common jobs obtained by such grads, the Handbook points out, include top- and mid-level management analysts, purchasing agents; regulatory officers; teaching and the broad category that includes artists, broadcasters, writers, editors, entertainers and public relations specialists. International trade is another hot area for anthropology majors, as companies seek out grads with cross-cultural perspective on how their brands and products will be perceived abroad.
"In my last class, I had several students go into the Peace Corp helping out with cross-cultural approaches to health care and health care delivery," said Helen B. Schwartzman, a professor and chair of the anthropology department at Northwestern University. "The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta also hires a lot of anthropologists because these grads are trained to conduct interviews and work with people to understand their perspectives on health care and why they may not comply with medication regimens, for example."
Becky Perry, 22, a spring graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, adds the job market for anthropology majors is as diverse as it is because there's no clear career path for these majors to follow.
"My original plan was to go to medical school and I needed to take biology and chemistry for anthropology anyway, so I thought that would be a more interesting major," she said. "My career goals changed after my sophomore year, but I stuck with anthropology."
Perry moved to Jackson, Miss. after graduation and now works as the marketing director for Valley Innovative Services, a food services company that specializes in cafeteria fair for schools, hospitals, businesses and seniors.
"I do monthly promotions which means I come up with the décor for cafeterias and I go in and decorate it," she said. "I also go in for grand opening day and give out prizes, conduct give-aways and coordinate with different vendors.
She admits she's not directly applying the skills she learned in class, but said the communication and research skills she brought to the table are put to use each day.
"I can't see myself working at a museum," Perry said. "It's hard to find those jobs because the number of opportunities are so limited and they don't pay well. Anthropology is a good degree, though, especially if you're just going for something interesting within the liberal arts field."
The AAA notes anthropology classes teaches the importance of record-keeping, attention to details and clear thinking. Not all employers are familiar with the skills anthropology majors possess, however, so it's important to cast a wide net when scouting for jobs and sell yourself hard once you get in the door.
"You won't see many positions specifically advertised for anthropologists," said Kathleen Terry-Sharp, director of academic relations for AAA. "You'll more often see positions for analysts within social services programs. They may need someone to determine how well their programs function. Or you might see job ads that political science or public administration majors might apply for. The research skills that anthropologists study are quite applicable in the same job environments."
The job market for all social scientists, which include geographers, historians and political scientists, is expected to grow between 10 percent and 20 percent through 2008, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
It's a relatively low-paying field, although the level of take-home pay varies dramatically by occupation. It also climbs substantially for those who break from the field.
The median annual salary for all social scientists, excluding economists, psychologists and urban and regional planners, was just under $39,000 in 1998, the most recent year for which BLS salary data are available. The lowest 10 percent that year earned less than $22,000 and the highest 10 percent earned nearly $81,000.
More specifically, the Handbook reveals those with only a bachelor's degree in anthropology or archeology earn an average of about $40,800, which is 12 percent below the salary average for all graduates with a bachelor's degree. Salaries for those age 25 to 34 are about $39,000, while those between the ages of 45 to 54 earn about $43,000.
Salaries for unrelated occupations in the private sector, however, can be far higher – averaging closer to $49,000 per year . And those who head for the insurance, finance and real estate industries earn roughly $67,000 annually.
It should be noted that those who remain in the field, pursuing a higher degree, often say they feel pressured to publish new research and stay current in their fields, especially those who go on for their Ph.D.
"This is not a discipline that attracts huge numbers of majors," said Schwartzman, of Northwestern University. "It's perceived as being more specialized and it also has the impression of, well, what are you going to do with that degree? I think sometimes that raises issues with students and also for parents asking those questions."
She said her department encourages would-be students to consider the degree a solid springboard to medical school, law school or even a master's of business administration (MBA) program. It also helps to remember the broad range of job opportunities available to grads who obtain a bachelor's degree.
"Students see it as a way to understand humans from a broader perspective," Schwartman said. "I think it's a good job market for people who specialize in anthropology because there's an increasing recognition of the need for people trained with a multi-cultural perspective."