Anthropology is the study of humans past and present. Our origins, identities, linguistics, bodies, thought patterns, conflicts, foods and even how we engage with social media are all things that anthropologists investigate. If you find yourself pondering these social and cultural constructs and wondering how they originated, how they can be explained or how they can be improved, then consider earning an anthropology degree that can lead to a career in this field.
The subfields of anthropology
The duties of anthropologists vary depending on what subfield they’re in. Anthropology is a vast discipline, and academics typically break it down into four main subfields:
Archaeology is the study of human history and prehistory through the lens of material artifacts discovered and retrieved from the field. Archaeologists work to uncover and examine these objects in order to interpret the activities, experiences and living environments of civilizations throughout history.
- Biological/physical anthropology
This subfield is the study of human and primate bodies, remains and fossils for the purpose of understanding more about the evolutionary history of humans and how the environment impacted human life in the past. Biological anthropologists look at how physical developments, such as changes in our skeletal or genetic makeup, are interconnected with social and cultural behaviors throughout history.
- Cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropologists study the social, cultural, and learned behavior of groups of people in specific environments. Cultural anthropologists base their work in ethnography, a research method that uses field work and participant-observation to study different cultures and customs.
- Linguistic anthropology
Linguistic anthropology is the study of the history and development of language and how language influences social life. Linguistic anthropologists focus on how language shapes societies and their cultural beliefs, social networks and understanding of themselves and their environments.
The skills needed to be an anthropologist
An anthropologist's skill set includes:
- Communication skills
The ability to communicate research findings effectively to different audiences including peers and general audiences, which requires strong writing, speaking and listening skills.
- Critical thinking
Anthropologists need to draw conclusions from observations, laboratory experiments, and other methods of research. They need to be able to combine various sources of information to try to solve problems and to answer research questions.
- Research skills
Being able to draw on a tool kit of qualitative and quantitative research skills to design projects that may span over several years or even decades. Knowledge of statistics and an understanding of how to design, analyze and present data sets related to large-scale research projects.
- Understanding of human diversity
The ability to think with an open mind beyond your own background to study and learn about other cultures' religions, politics and values.
Job outlook for anthropologists
There are many types of practicing anthropologists. This includes those who study urban gangs, archaeological sites, language, climate change or a pandemic's impact on humanity.
Some anthropology jobs offer special opportunities, such as the potential to live abroad, the chance to assist in important criminal investigations or to be a part of archeological digs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median salary for anthropologists and archaeologists was $61,910 in 2021. And the number of anthropology jobs is projected to grow 6% between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS.