Forensic Anthropologist: Job Description, Outlook and Salary

Forensic anthropologists require significant formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Forensic anthropologists study old bones to determine the age, sex, and medical history, along with other identification factors, of deceased persons. Both a bachelor's and a master's degree in anthropology are required in order for a forensic anthropologist to work. They can work in archaeology or with law enforcement teams.

Essential Information

Forensic anthropology is a subfield of anthropology. It involves the study of human remains for legal purposes, including police investigations. Forensic anthropologists may face stiff competition in their career field due to the small number of positions. A master's degree is typically needed to work as a forensic anthropologist.

Required Education Master's degree for employment; Ph.D. may be preferred
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all anthropologists and archaeologists
Average Salary (2015)* $64,290 annually for all anthropologists and archaeologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Forensic anthropologists work with law enforcement agencies and assist in processing skeletal evidence. They study bones, a field known as osteology, and profile research subjects by gathering information used to determine the individual's age at death, sex and physical condition. Forensic anthropologists may also assist in excavating and relocating human remains, performing dental analysis, determining time of death, assessing trauma to bones and presenting expert testimony in court. They are expected to use scientific standards in their work.

Education and Experience

According to the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA), individuals need a bachelor's degree in anthropology or a related field and a master's degree in anthropology to meet the minimum requirements to work as a forensic anthropologist (www.theabfa.org). The ABFA suggests these individuals possess a doctoral degree in biological or physical anthropology, meaning prospective forensic anthropologists could spend up to ten years in school for this career. Formal degree programs often include internships, field work and clinical experience.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 4% growth in employment for anthropologists and archaeologists from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). This is due to that fact that forensic anthropology remains a highly specialized and competitive field with more graduates than available jobs. Other anthropological fields, including archaeology, are expected to have a greater rate of job growth than forensic anthropology. According to the ABFA, most forensic anthropologists maintain full time employment in academia and work part-time as forensic anthropology consultants, while a smaller percentage work as medical examiners or for the military.


The average annual salary for anthropologists and archaeologists was $64,290 in May 2015, according to the BLS. The bottom ten percent earned $35,440 a year or less, while the top ten percent made $97,040 or more per year.

Forensic anthropologists use scientific analysis to determine as much information about human remains as they can. Their field is a challenging one, but forensic anthropologists can find work in a few different fields that can utilize their skills, such as academia, or as consultants, or in the military. Forensic anthropologists should consider completing their schooling with a doctoral program in order to be more attractive to possible employers.

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