Is Anthropology a Good Career? Prospects & Realities

So, you’ve got a passion for people, cultures, and history, but your parents are still asking when you’ll get a “real job”? Choosing a career in anthropology can feel like opting for an adventure—but with bills to pay, you might be wondering if it’s a one-way ticket to professional obscurity.

This blog post will give you the grounded, practical perspective you need to determine if anthropology is the right path for you.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Anthropologists have versatile career paths, with roles in academia, government, private sector, and non-profit organizations, reflecting a growing demand for cultural expertise.
  • Advanced education is often necessary, with many roles requiring a master’s or Ph.D. paired with field experience to secure competitive positions and salaries.
  • The profession offers intellectual fulfillment and travel opportunities, but job stability and work-life balance can be challenging in this field.

What Exactly Does an Anthropologist Do?

Ever wondered what an anthropologist actually does? It’s a bit like being a detective of humanity, piecing together clues to understand our past, present, and future. Anthropologists delve into the intricacies of human societies, cultures, biology, and languages to answer the big questions about who we are and how we got here.

Cultural anthropologists , for instance, immerse themselves in the daily lives of communities to understand social norms, traditions, and changes across time. Biological (or physical) anthropologists seek to understand the biological dimensions of humans, studying our evolutionary history, health, and how we adapt to different environments. If you’re fascinated by Indiana Jones movies, archaeological anthropology might be right up your alley, digging through ancient artefacts to reconstruct vanished civilizations. Then there’s linguistic anthropology, which unravels the complexities of language and its impacts on social life.

The job’s a mix of fieldwork—possibly trotting the globe or working closely with specific communities—and pouring over texts and data, which calls for a balance of adventure and scholarly patience.

Is There a Demand for Anthropologists in the Workforce?

You’re probably itching to know: Are anthropologists actually in demand? The quick answer is yes, but let’s dig a little deeper.

Anthropologists have carved out niches in varied sectors. In the government realm, they consult on policies and community projects. Academic positions remain a mainstay as educators and researchers. Corporate anthropology is now a thing—companies need experts who can navigate cultural nuances in a globalized market. Plus, there’s an uptick in opportunities with non-profits and NGOs, where anthropologists’ insights into human behavior and social structures can greatly benefit humanitarian efforts.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for anthropologists and archaeologists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2020 to 2030, as fast as the average for all occupations. Getting a bit more specific, a distinct demand has emerged in user experience (UX) design, where anthropologists’ insights into human behavior are invaluable.

What Are the Qualifications and Education Needed?

Alright, ready to pursue a career in anthropology? You’ll typically need a solid educational background starting with an undergraduate degree in anthropology or a related field. This foundational step often involves both coursework and starting to get your feet wet with initial field experiences.

For many roles, especially in academia or high-level research, you’d need a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. That’s where the real deep dive begins, from comprehensive examinations to dissertation research. You’re looking at several years of commitment, but for many, it’s a passion worth pursuing.

Fieldwork is the heart of anthropology, and students often participate in it during their graduate studies. This hands-on experience is invaluable—it’s where theory meets practice. Plus, it’s a chance to start specializing in your area of interest.

While not always mandatory, certifications from professional organizations like the American Anthropological Association (AAA) can be a feather in your cap, signaling additional expertise and commitment to the field.

Remember, standing out in the field of anthropology often involves being able to apply a broad set of qualitative and quantitative research skills. Skills like statistical analysis, grant writing, and proficiency in other languages can give you an edge in the job market.

Before closing this chapter, here’s a nugget of advice: Network, network, network. It’s the connections you forge—be it at conferences, through internships, or during fieldwork—that often open doors to exciting career opportunities in this field.

Can You Make a Living as an Anthropologist?

If you’re toying with the idea of donning the anthropologist’s hat, you’re probably wondering about the financial viability of such a decision. Let’s talk turkey – yes, you can earn a living as an anthropologist, with salary ranges that span a surprisingly wide spectrum depending on your chosen path.

In academia , you might start as a lecturer or assistant professor, earning an average salary that can range from $50,000 to $70,000 a year. Tenured professors, however, can pull in upwards of $90,000, depending on the institution and their level of experience.

Government positions could land you roles in cultural resource management, policy analysis, or program management. Here, salaries generally fall between $50,000 and $100,000, influenced by factors like your specific role, seniority, and location.

Private sector gigs could see you in consulting, market research, or even user experience design, potentially earning between $60,000 to $120,000 or more. Some private organizations value the insights anthropologists bring, especially when it comes to understanding human behavior and cultural trends.

It’s clear that your financial prospects are not cast in stone and will vary based on the trajectory you take, your educational qualifications, and real-world experience. If you’re adaptable and willing to explore opportunities beyond traditional academic roles, you could find yourself with a rewarding – and well-compensated – career.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Career in Anthropology?

Embarking on an anthropology career is akin to setting off on a grand adventure – it’s filled with discovery and learning, but it’s not without its challenges. Let’s weigh the pros and cons.


  1. Intellectual Gratification: Delving into the mysteries of human cultures offers a profound intellectual satisfaction you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

  2. Cultural Understanding: You’ll gain deep insights into diverse ways of life, which can be immensely enriching on both a personal and professional level.

  3. Travel Opportunities: Fieldwork can whisk you away to far-flung corners of the world, allowing you to immerse yourself in new environments.

  4. Academic Contribution: Your research could contribute significantly to the body of knowledge in anthropology and related fields.

  5. Variety of Roles: With a growing appreciation for anthropological insights in various sectors, the variety of roles available is ever-expanding.


  1. Job Stability: Tenure-track positions in academia are increasingly competitive and scarce, and contract work may be unpredictable.

  2. Need for Advanced Degrees: To make your mark and earn a competitive salary, you’ll often need a master’s or doctorate degree, which means additional time and expense.

  3. Funding Hurdles: Research often depends on securing funding, which can be a stressful and uncertain process.

  4. Work-Life Balance: Fieldwork can demand long hours and significant time away from home, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

In short, a career in anthropology is as fascinating as it is fraught with uncertainties. There’s no denying the appeal of cultural exploration, but it’s essential to enter this field with open eyes and a realistic mindset.

How to Get Started in an Anthropology Career?

So you’re itching to get your feet dirty in the field of anthropology? Great! Here’s a roadmap to get you started on solid ground:

  1. Hit the Books: Education is key, so aim for a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at the very least. Consider a master’s or Ph.D. if you’re eyeing academia or high-level research.

  2. Field Experience Is King: Volunteer for archaeological digs, intern at a museum, or assist in research projects. Nothing beats hands-on experience!

  3. Network Like a Pro: Join anthropological societies, attend conferences, and connect with professionals in the field. The anthropology community is tight-knit, and word-of-mouth can go a long way.

  4. Embrace the Digital World: In today’s digital age, tech skills can set you apart. Familiarize yourself with data analysis software, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and online research tools.

  5. Consider the Road Less Traveled: Applied anthropology is a unique path that allows you to work in corporate, nonprofit, or government sectors. It’s where much of the new job growth is happening.

  6. Develop a Specialty: Whether it’s forensic anthropology, medical anthropology, or cultural resource management, specializing can make you more marketable.

One piece of advice that’s often overlooked: learn a new language. It can be an absolute game-changer, particularly for cultural anthropologists working in foreign countries. Plus, it’s likely to endear you to the communities you study, allowing for deeper engagement and understanding.

So there you have it – while a career in anthropology might not be a walk in the park, it’s an enriching odyssey that awaits the curious and the brave. Equip yourself with knowledge, experience, and the right connections, and the world is your oyster. Or, more aptly, your excavation site!

  • Alex Mitch

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