Cultural Anthropologist: Job Description & Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a cultural anthropologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

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A career in cultural anthropology is well suited for those interested in history, geography, travel and human culture. An advanced degree is imperative for the highest-paying opportunities in this career field, often requiring graduate specialization.

Essential Information

Cultural anthropologists, also known as sociocultural anthropologists, study the language, art, traditions and customs of societies past and present to learn how humanity has developed over time. They strive to solve a variety of mysteries about humankind, such as how civilizations formed, how customs came into existence or why cultures differ from each other. The minimum educational requirement for becoming a cultural anthropologist is a bachelor's degree; however, a wider range of job opportunities requires a master's or doctoral degree. Along with museums and universities, cultural anthropologists may be employed by businesses, hospitals and penitentiaries.

Required Education Bachelor's for entry-level; master's or doctoral degree for advancement
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% for all anthropologists and archeologists*
Average Salary (2015) $64,290 for all anthropologists and archeologists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

Cultural anthropologists typically specialize in one region and may even focus on one specific cultural component, such as marriage rituals, ceremonial dancing or legal structure. They research and observe various cultural phenomena like music, language and art, as well as social relationships, habitation and evolution. Anthropologists may be required to travel to various locations to gather information and may even live among distant civilizations during observation. They use this data to formulate hypotheses, which they typically detail in reports.

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Cultural Anthropologist Career Information

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of anthropologists and archeologists is projected to increase 4% from 2014-2024. During this time, job growth may be spurred by greater demand for scientific and technical consultants who can analyze and advise companies on the needs of diverse cultural markets. Federal government agencies will also have a greater need for anthropologists to evaluate features of cultures around the world for resource management. Anthropologists with graduate degrees and experience will have the best chances of employment.

Salary Information

In May 2015, the BLS reported that anthropologists and archeologists earned an average of $64,290 per year. Those employed by the federal government earned a mean annual wage of $76,180, the highest wage among all industries. The highest-paying states were the District of Columbia, New York, and Massachusetts, which all offered mean annual wages of $80,000 or more.

Cultural Anthropologist Education Requirements

Cultural anthropologists with bachelor's degrees may be qualified for entry-level positions, such as market analyst or research aide; however, most positions in university-level research and teaching demand graduate degrees.

Undergraduate Degree

Bachelor's degree programs in anthropology are available at colleges and universities and usually entail four years of full-time study. These programs combine instruction in the cultural, physical, linguistic and archeological subsections of anthropology. Courses may include:

  • World prehistory
  • Primatology
  • Social organization
  • Urban ethnography
  • Language culture
  • Medical anthropology
  • North American archaeology
  • Gender roles

Graduate Degree

Those seeking more advanced and specialized training in anthropology may pursue master's or doctoral degrees in anthropology. Many graduate degree programs offer concentrations in cultural anthropology that focus on practice, theory and methodology in the subspecialty. While master's degree programs typically involve two years of post-baccalaureate coursework, doctorate programs generally take four years to complete and involve more extensive research and practical fieldwork instruction.

While those with a bachelor's degree can find success in entry level positions, pursuing a master's degree or higher form of education provides the best chances for employment as a cultural anthropologist. Doing so demonstrates higher knowledge and experience, often in the form of fieldwork, to potential employers. The job outlook is slower-than-average through 2024, but the potential salary could swell to $80,000 or higher depending on the state and industry.

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