We humans are social beings, naturally gravitating toward one another. Whether it’s enjoying an intimate dinner with someone we love, gathering for a neighborhood block party, or settling in shoulder to shoulder with 50,000 fellow fans to cheer on our favorite sports team, we love to be around others. In fact, it’s our ability to gather, socialize, and communicate that’s landed us on top of the food chain. From the invention of the printing press in 1440 to the telegraph in 1830 to the telephone in 1876, we’ve been finding ways to communicate and socialize with one another on a larger scale for hundreds of years.
Today, our need to socialize has extended to the digital realm, with platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snap Chat and more providing us with even more opportunities to get in touch and keep in touch with one another.
What is Sociology? – Understanding the Science of Society
No surprise here, sociology is one of the social sciences (along with anthropology, social psychology, political science, and economics). First coined by Auguste Compte in the 1830s, sociology, in its simplest form, is the scientific study of society. The study of sociology encompasses social relationships, social interactions, and culture, which include the causes of human behavior and how groups and societies shape behaviors.
Any type of interaction between two people can be considered social, so sociology includes the study of the behavior of people, from the smallest gatherings to the largest crowds and assemblies. This means that the study and practice of sociology is among the broadest and farthest reaching, ranging from the micro-level to the macro-level.
Just some of the concepts studied in sociology include:
- Families, population
- Gender, racial, and ethnic relations
- Fashions, trends, rituals
- Morals, values, religious beliefs
What is a Sociologist?
Sociologists are the scientist-practitioners behind the science. Their work is focused on finding patterns in social behaviors and culture and understanding the ways in which society works to influence the way we think, feel, and behave.
According to the American Sociological Association, sociologists “understand social inequality, patterns of behavior, forces for social change and resistance, and how social systems work.”
They seek to understand how our experiences are shaped by our interactions with society and how cultural and social forces affect our behaviors and the decisions we make. The identification of specific social patterns by sociologists may allow us to achieve social change or, at the very least, better understand or serve a segment of our society. For example, data gleaned by sociologists may be used by policymakers, educators, lawmakers, and social workers to formulate public policy and develop strategies for implementing social change.
Their work may also be used to accomplish other types of goals. For example, sociologists may work to identify the buying patterns of a certain group as to allow marketers and retailers to better appeal to them, or they may identify roadblocks to efficiency in corporate culture.
The work of sociologists includes:
- Collaborating with policymakers, other social scientists, nonprofit groups
- Designing research projects that test theories
- Applying both quantitative and qualitative methods of research
- Collecting data from observations, interviews, surveys, and more
- Gathering, analyzing, and drawing conclusions from data
- Preparing research findings in reports, presentations, and articles
Where They Work and What They Do
The work of sociologists is valued by a myriad of organizations, businesses, and groups that seek to identify patterns in social behavior. Just some of the employers of these social scientists include:
- Social/Community Agencies: Includes nonprofit groups, community development agencies, and social services agencies
- Business/Industry: Includes work in marketing and consumer research, corporate culture, and human resources
- Legal System: Includes correctional institutions, such as jails, prisons, and detention centers, and nonprofit/watchdog/advocacy groups studying recidivism, prison reform, public safety, etc.
- Research: Includes colleges/universities, and government- and private-funded research entities
- Government: Includes divisions and departments related to housing, education, labor, policy, transportation, and more
Research is a natural fit for sociologists, with many of these professionals working in this capacity for governmental agencies, private sector corporations, and marketing firms. But a career in sociology may also lend well to clinical practice, with sociology education and training well-served for work in the social services field. Sociologists’ unique insight into how society develops and how social and cultural variables impact how people think and feel makes them adept practitioners in school, clinic, and human services agency settings. They can be social workers, addiction counselors, and corporate advisors, all of whom may utilize the evidence-based therapies of applied behavior analysis (ABA) to improve any number of behaviors.
Because of the broad scope of their work, sociologists may go by a myriad of titles, such as:
- Clinical sociologist
- Research director
- Social caseworker
- Social services director
- Statistical analyst
- Public health analyst
- Marketing/consumer researcher
- Personnel management specialist
- Community analyst
- Research consultant
- Management analyst
- Program evaluator
- Organizational consultant
- Group facilitator
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals that the largest number of sociologists worked in the following settings in 2018:
- Research and development in the social sciences, humanities
- Educational services: state, local, and private
- State government
How to Become a Sociologist
Requirements for a career in sociology may be different depending on your career plan. Here’s what you’ll need to know about preparing to become a sociologist:
The BLS reports that most sociologists hold a master’s or doctoral degree, although bachelor’s degrees in the field are also commonplace. While doctoral degrees aren’t generally required for work in applied sociology positions, careers in academia typically demand a doctoral degree.
The Commission on the Accreditation of Programs in Applied and Clinical Sociology accredits both undergraduate and graduate programs in sociology.
Most master’s programs in sociology are located in sociology departments, although these programs are also found in sociology/anthropology and sociology/criminal justice departments.
According to the American Sociological Association (ASA), about 56% of all applied, clinical, and professional master’s programs require a thesis and about 33% of these programs require an internship. In addition, about 30% of these programs are offered online.
Traditional (PhD preparation), applied, clinical, and professional master’s programs in sociology are often designed as:
- MA/MS in Sociology
- MA in Applied Sociology
- MS in Public Sociology
Typical courses in these programs include:
- Social Statistics
- Leadership and Social Justice
- Social Change and Adjustment
- Social Research Methods
- Advanced Sociological Theory
- Contemporary Sociological Theory
A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university is required for admission into a master’s program in sociology. While a specific undergraduate major is usually not required, most schools require applicants to show proof of the successful completion of undergraduate courses in theory, research methods, and statistics.
While no certification or licensure requirements exist for sociologists, many of these professionals choose to earn a national designation to display a commitment to their profession, to increase their earning potential, and to remain competitive in the field.
- Association for Applied & Clinical Psychology
- Certifications Awarded:
- Certified Clinical Sociologist
- Certified Sociological Practitioner
- Who’s Eligible: Practicing sociologists with a master’s or doctoral degree
- Doctoral applicants must have at least 1,500 hours (or one year) of experience practicing as a sociologist in the last 5 years
- Master’s applicants must have at least 3,000 hours (or two years) of experience practicing as a sociologist in the last 5 years
- Certifications Awarded:
- Behavior Analysis Certification Board
The study of our inherent need to socialize and the near-countless ways in which society shapes our behaviors is at the heart of sociology. Both ABA and sociology are focused on proven theories of learning and behavior. This makes the application of applied behavior analysis (ABA) a natural fit for many careers in sociology.
- Certification Awarded: Board Certified Behavior Analysis (BCBA)
- Who’s Eligible: Candidates with (1) either a master’s degree in psychology, education, or behavior analysis that includes a verified course sequence (VCS) or (2) a VCS that’s completed either during or after the completion of a master’s degree in one of these three fields.
In 2022, the BACB will remove the degree restrictions, opening up the BCBA to a wide variety of practitioners in the human services field, including sociologists. In anticipation of this change, many schools that offer the VCS (either as a stand-alone course sequence or as a graduate certificate) have already removed the degree restrictions, allowing counselors, social workers, and other professionals to complete this comprehensive course of study in ABA.
Many practicing sociologists also find that membership in one or more professional organizations proves valuable for making contacts in the industry and advancing their career. The Commission on the Accreditation of Programs in Applied and Clinical Sociology maintains a list of sociology professional organizations at the international, national, regional, and state level.
Salaries for Sociologists
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sociologists earned the following salaries at the 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th percentiles, as of May 2021:
- 25th: $65,530
- 50th: $92,910
- 75th: $114,300
- 90th: $135,420
The top-paying states for sociologists, according to mean salary, include:
- Illinois: $117,710
- North Carolina: $110,000
- California: $102,230
- Massachusetts: $99,040
- New York: $97,170
The top-paying metro areas for sociologists, according to mean salary, include:
- Charlotte (also includes Concord and Gastonia), NC-SC: $129,870
- Chicago (also includes Naperville and Elgin), IL-IN-WI: $117,170
- San Francisco (also includes Oakland and Hayward), CA: $109,760
- Boston (also includes Cambridge and Nashua), MA-NH: $107,330
- Sacramento ( also includes Roseville and Arden-Arcade), CA: $105,920
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Sociologists reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.