A woman interviews a man across a table

A sociologist could...

Determine if access to a community college affects the high school graduation rate. Students throw graduation caps into the air Research how access to computer technology impacts the educational achievements of children. Two children wear headphones while sitting at a computer
Investigate whether having city-sponsored sports camps reduces teen violence and is cost-effective. Two men playing basketball Evaluate whether pet ownership can reduce loneliness in elderly populations. An elderly man holds the paw of a large dog
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Any time there is more than one person in a room, there is potential for a social interaction to occur or for a group to form. Sociologists study these interactions—how and why groups and societies form, and how outside events like health issues, technology, and crime affect both the societies and the individuals. If you already like to think about how people interact as individuals and in groups, then you're thinking like a sociologist!
Key Requirements Keen observation skills, an interest in people, and an open mind about different cultures, lifestyles, and beliefs
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School algebra II, pre-calculus, English; if available, statistics, sociology
Median Salary
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
  • Marta Tienda, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University
  • Marc Smith, sociologist for Microsoft
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Bachelor's degree holders have limited opportunities and do not qualify for most positions as a research sociologist. A bachelor's degree does, however, provide a suitable background for many different kinds of entry-level jobs in related occupations, such as research assistant, writer, management trainee, or market analyst.

Sociologists usually require at least a master's degree. For positions at a college, university, or think-tank, a PhD is needed. To advance to the top positions in the corporate world, a PhD or a MBA (master's in business administration) is advantageous.

Education and Training

A master's degree or higher is recommended for a career as a sociologist. A bachelor's degree in sociology has great potential in related careers, but not as a research sociologist.

In addition to traditional sociology classes, students who are interested in becoming sociologists should take a variety of statistics, mathematics, and data-modeling classes. The size and complexity of data sets available to sociologists for analysis has steadily increased as Internet and other telecommunication resources grow. Such data sets require you know more complex mathematics in order to analyze them.

Other Qualifications

Sociologists need excellent written and oral communication skills to report research findings and to collaborate on research. Successful sociologists also need intellectual curiosity and creativity because they constantly seek new information about people, groups, and ideas. The ability to think logically and methodically is also essential to analyze complicated issues, such as the impacts of various forms of government on cultures. Objectivity, an open mind, and systematic work habits are important in all kinds of sociological research.

Nature of the Work

video of sociologist Corliss Outley researching what urban kids like to do for fun. Watch this Real Scientists video of sociologist Corlis Outley, courtesy of DragonflyTV at pbskidsgo.org. Spending time at parks and at hang-outs around the city might be considered child's play, but it is this sociologist's job! See how Corlis gathers data to figure out what city kids like to do best, and what kinds of fun outlets the city should provide.

Sociologists study society and social behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations, and social institutions that people form. They also study the activities in which people participate, including social, religious, political, economic, and business organizations. They study the behavior of, and interaction among, groups, organizations, institutions, and nations and how they react to phenomena such as the spread of technology, health epidemics, crime, and social movements. They also trace the origin and growth of these groups and interactions. Sociologists analyze how social influences affect different individuals. They are also concerned with the ways organizations and institutions affect the daily lives of individuals and groups.

To analyze social patterns, sociologists design research projects that use a variety of methods, including historical analysis, comparative analysis, and quantitative and qualitative techniques. The results of sociological research aid educators, lawmakers, administrators, and others who are interested in resolving social problems and formulating public policy. Most sociologists work in one or more specialties, such as social organization, stratification, and mobility; racial and ethnic relations; education; the family; social psychology; urban, rural, political, and comparative sociology; gender relations; demography; gerontology; criminology; and sociological practice.

Work Environment

Most sociologists have regular hours. Generally working behind a desk, either alone or in collaboration with other social scientists, they analyze data and read and write research articles or reports. Many experience the pressures of writing and publishing, as well as those associated with deadlines and tight schedules. Sometimes they must work overtime, for which they usually are not compensated.

Occasionally travel may be necessary to collect information or attend meetings. When working in the field, sociologists may need to adjust to unfamiliar cultures, foods, climates, and languages.

Sociologists employed by colleges and universities usually have flexible work schedules, often dividing their time among teaching, research, writing, consulting, and administrative responsibilities.

On the Job

  • Prepare publications and reports containing research findings.
  • Analyze and interpret data in order to increase the understanding of human social behavior.
  • Plan and conduct research to develop and test theories about societal issues such as crime, group relations, poverty, and aging.
  • Collect data about the attitudes, values, and behaviors of people in groups, using observation, interviews, and review of documents.
  • Develop, implement, and evaluate methods of data collection, such as questionnaires or interviews.
  • Teach sociology.
  • Direct work of statistical clerks, statisticians, and others who compile and evaluate research data.
  • Consult with and advise individuals, such as administrators, social workers, and legislators, regarding social issues and policies, as well as the implications of research findings.
  • Collaborate with research workers in other disciplines.
  • Develop approaches to the solution of groups' problems, based on research findings in sociology and related disciplines.
  • Observe group interactions and role affiliations to collect data, identify problems, evaluate progress, and determine the need for additional change.
  • Develop problem-intervention procedures, utilizing techniques such as interviews, consultations, role playing, and participant observation of group interactions.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Sociologists

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