Anthropologists Are Lowest Paid & Least Respected Scientists In the United States

Ann Gibbons has a piece in today’s Science where she writes of the troubles the field faces,

“In the fall of 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott proclaimed that his state didn’t need any more anthropologists, and that public money would be better spent educating scientists. Then in January, a study found that the unemployment rate among recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and archaeology was 10.5%, surpassed by few other majors, and that anthropology majors who did get jobs were also among the lowest paid. It’s been a tough year for anthropology, but don’t count out this field: Most said the bad press wasn’t fair, noting that the situation is very different for bachelor’s degree– and advanced degree–holders.”

I do not have access to the full text, unfortunately. I can tell, though, that the study cited in the abstract only focuses on undergraduates. So there is a bias in her report, just as she writes in the last sentence. Without a doubt, those with graduate degrees have better opportunities.

What I do understand from my experience is that I was offered outrageously low salaries upon graduating with my Bachelor’s in Anthropology. My life was unsustainable. For that reason, I focused my Master’s in Biology, as my prospects in that field offered more financial stability.

Furthermore, anthropology is also plagued by misunderstandings. Scientists and non-scientists often do not know what anthropology is and what the can be gained from this field. I believe this is one of the reasons why the field is not adequately compensated.

I will leave this thread open for discussion by you, the readers, on what you think can be done to increase the financial return and improving the perception of the field.

Gibbons, A. (2012). An Annus Horribilis for Anthropology? Science, 338 (6114), 1520-1520 DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6114.1520

15 thoughts on “Anthropologists Are Lowest Paid & Least Respected Scientists In the United States

  1. My name is Claudia, I am from Romania and I study Archaeology as final year MA student. My chosen specialization is Bioarchaeology and this has brought me many opportunities, including financial ones (grants and very possible future employment, after I get my PHD). I do believe that the world can’t afford to pay as many archaeologists and anthropologists as they would be needed, considering the archaeological heritage from my country for example. But I also believe that it is a mistake for students to choose a specialization that is already widely spread (eg. Roman archaeology) because, to put it simply, there are already specialists who study that so why hire another, considering that the available positions for archaeologists and anthropologists are limited. To avoid that, students should choose something “fresh”, something needed, thus increasing their chances for getting a job. They should ask themselves 2 questions: 1. What period/subject I would like to take as my future specialization? 2. What contributions can I bring to this subject, something new? The first question may be easy to answer, but if the second one gives them TOO much time to think, they should move on. Many scholars nowadays, especially in Eastern Europe choose a subject but they don’t make any improvings to it, they just keep on tapping the same questions, theories and methodologies, they don’t put their mind to think. So, to some up, any student should bare in mind that as a scientist, his knowledge should be something needed and consequently, something people would pay for. This kind of thinking should also promote the study of new directions in both archaeology and anthropology and more interdisciplinary work.

    1. truthfully based on the oppionion of an future anthropoligy i belive the statement this women is highly infactual and offencive. The world needs anthropoligy to state where were going to be, years from now. besides last time i checked evolution doesent stop it keeps moveing forward. so does this mean that the people dont care what were going to be in our future

  2. I am a Ph.D. student from the University of South Florida, and one thing that needs to be remembered is the politics in this state. Rick Scott has made it clear over the years that he is a corporatist… his statements suggest that he believes that government is bad (part of the “starve government until it’s small enough to drown it in the bathtub crowd”) and that corporations should run everything. Since anthropologists have pointed out the flaws in that sort of thinking, he’s not very happy with us. We’ve criticized other moves made by him and his party to fix social problems – they’re always shortsighted and based on old thinking that has never really worked, and that has not gone over very well. Second, one of the faculty at USF has been exposing the wrongdoing at the Dozier School for boys in northern Florida, and has already shown that there have been more deaths there than the records suggest with the number possibly being far greater. We have the habit of asking tough questions that they don’t want asked, and discovering the things they don’t want found. The sort of discoveries we are making makes the state (and those who have been running it) itself look bad, and since Scott is supposedly trying to lure big business to this state, it’s a problem for him. Third (and maybe the largest part of his hostility), his primary supporters are mostly creationists and often militantly so. Since our discipline is based on evolutionary theory and evolution is part of the core, his supporters are hostile to us (my neighbors and the people in this area spectacularly so).

    At the national level, I think the problem is a lack of education about what anthropology is and can do. When asked “What good is a degree in anthropology?”, I always reply “A better question is to ask what it’s NOT good for!” I then explain that having a cross-cultural perspective often brings new insights into situations that people without our training miss. Our department teaches the applied side of the discipline, and I tell people that we’re taught how to identify problems, find solutions for them, and develop ways to apply those solutions – and then analyze the results and if the solution doesn’t work as well as planned, identify why and how to fix it. I tell them that we applied anthropologists specialize in finding solutions to social problems and taking knowledge that has been generated and applying it in ways that help people. I also say that we help people to understand humanity better, and that is always a good thing. One other point I usually make is that we try to teach our students to think critically and to examine the evidence. I find that these points usually turn people onto our discipline (those who aren’t hostile anyway like the young-earth creationists).

    I understand that employers are often looking for graduates who can learn – they aren’t so much concerned with what someone has already learned as they are with the ability being demonstrated through getting a degree. I don’t generally go there, but it should be also included in the spiel.

    Of course, we can always find ways to improve our discipline. At the undergraduate level, I would like to see a bit more problem-solving included (looking back at what I learned for my B.A.). Also, I think we should help the undergraduates by having at least a couple of weeks in the classroom about how to sell their discipline and themselves to prospective employers. It’s a point that a young person may miss and make job seeking a bit more difficult. (This may have already been started in the years since I got my B.A..)

    My two cents worth…

    1. Bob Bowers

      The fact that you think anthropology can prove the superiority of big government probably goes a long way towards explaining why it is so little respected. What was once (and in part still is, I imagine) a rigorous observational science has become, to the public eye, and apparently to the academic one too, conflated with sociology, cultural studies, lit crit and generalized hokum.

      I suspect that is largely the fault of those who have been doing anthropology over the last decades. They have made the public face of anthropology political rather than scientific.

  3. I recently graduated with a BA in Cultural Anthropology and it sure is difficult finding a job directly related to anthropology. Anthropology can be transferable to so many different fields and anthropologists do a good job, I believe, of integrating into a community well without drawing attention to themselves. Anthropologists are trained to be participant observers. However I think the problem with anthropology not being recognized as it should be, is just that – anthropologists do not bring enough attention to themselves and their work. On the flip side, anthropologists who consider themselves activists appear to others as simply critical without offering any viable solutions. Doing so makes it difficult for others to work with them. It is no secret that academics can be considered those “with power” and when anthropologists advocate for those who have been marginalized, have less power, they do not do so in a way that allows others to work WITH them. This might sound harsh, but anthropologists are too often too critical of others and more often than not, do not try as hard as they can to find a common ground. It definitely goes both ways – anthropologist and other – both have misunderstandings, but anthropologists need to realize that they’re the ONLY people who are right, and figure out ways to negotiate with people who don’t have training in anthropology. After all, as an anthropologist, you ought to be more attuned to cultural differences and also be more capable of being the negotiator/peace maker.

    1. “Anthropologists are trained to be participant observers.”

      Here’s an honest statement and question. A chemistry student learns the basic rules of measurement and practice in their first class, and practices these basics. While we shouldn’t hold ourselves to the same standard, where in any BA program in any school in the U.S., is a student in an social/cultural anth program required to take a single, even upper-division, course on the basic rules and measures of practice and apply them in some way?
      My point is that we are not “trained” to be participant observers as undergrads, and most aren’t really even trained as PhD’s. What we do is read about examples of participant observation a lot, which is analogous to a chemistry student reading about some other chemist talking about what it was like to combine various elements.
      There are a small handful of 2nd or 3rd tier state schools out there that offer terminal MS programs in applied anthropology that actually do some training for PO or other field methods and systematic analysis. At UT Austin the applied track is for Activist Anthropology; I kid you not.

  4. Don’t worry – in a world where currently “what the can be gained from this field” is ‘measured’ mainly short-term-financially, and thus ‘economists’, “fast-panem-et-circenses”-providers and the like usually get the highest pays (even if the financial ‘gains’ are usually just on paper or computers), it is an honourable distinction.

    Welcome aboard with the growing number of other exploited, like small scale farmers in Africa, labourers and many other people who produce real material, social, spiritual and/or intellectual worth.

  5. I’m not surprised. Anthropologists are a threat, because knowledge is freedom and freedom is the enemy of the totalitarian regimes, not democratic or where there is no a policy in which the society participates or intervenes. Anthropology is giving conscience to knowledge, is giving true knowledge (enlightenment). Other “sciences” does not, therefore, do not pose a threat, but a tool of manipulation, control and power to these regimes. Regimes which we depend

    An example with the development programs of the United Nations that are false. Programs to keep other cultures dependent on economics Western oligarchs that many anthropologists reported. However, the purpose of anthropologists is to ensure that these cultures or ethnic self-sufficient, to be free and be themselves. Being anthropologist is hard, because sometimes it is very frustrating. Feeling David against Goliath. But it is this hardness that makes you look worthwhile.

    Anthropology is a vocational job, a dissident job, no money to pay it. If we thought in money don´t be anthropologist, we will be politicians. Anthropology is the light of sense, because his sense is to be very reflexive and self-criticism with the human, ourselves, because is the science of/about humanity, becosuse is the one and only possibility to touch, to feel, our reality, objective and hard reality…

    My name is Felix and I am a graduate and postgraduate in physical and cultural anthropology from the University of Granada (Hispanian).

    Sorry, if my English is not very good.

    Regards and good job!

  6. Don”t despair Anthropologists, the law of averages will have you back on top in no time at all.
    Denisova-Hominid. A rare find in an unhospitable climate. Kudos and congratulations
    to the hard working (bluecollar) scientists. Deglaciation almost wiped them out, and kept their footprint small, but a small number survived by location alone. Have you ever seen the beautiful valleys of the Altai mtns? Denisovans didn’t have to go anywhere. They as a species also didn’t have the intellect to do more than survive.
    Ancient greek historians refer to this specific area as “people eaters”, and the european to asian trade routes suffered as a result of their occupation. In fact, the highest Denisova gene markers are located in former european remote penal colonies. It wasn’t migration, it was deportation. Keep up the good work.

  7. I use to tell my students degree is of the least importance for employers. What really count is what you can do, what are you good for, what value can you bring in to an organization (public, private or non-profit). Indeed many important competencies are not acquired at University.

  8. I am currently in the middle of working on my first two years, with dreams of moving on to a BA, then masters. I realize this is going to be a hard road, already gets stressfull, however that is the nature of Anthropology. Reading articles like these do not sway me one bit, one because I already have lived most of my life a dollar short a day late, and second, I’m not doing this for the money. My intentions are to learn and grow as a person, to learn who I am. To learn who we all are. Of course there are those who think we are a waste of time. All through history, all other sciences were considered useless if not crazy during their beginings. The world was once flat. The earth once was the center of the universe. And all we know began a few thousand years ago. Well he world is round, the universe is way more than once thought, its billions not thousands, and the world needs us. People need us. I am proud of my goals, and would like to tell all those who feel like Mr. Scott “Anthropoligists are a breed of people who not only asks questions, but also hunts for answers. I’m not worried about money, I am worried about education. Both mine and yours. Maybe you should educate yourself.”

  9. The situation may be quite different for biological and cultural anthropology. However, anthropology generally lacks direct applications, that’s why it is more difficult that people understand the necessity of an anthropological perspective. But I also believe that, probably for the same reason (lack of constraints associated with direct applications and visible results), anthropology has not developed a strong and robust professional responsibility. As a matter of fact, only a surgeon can work as surgeon, and the same for architects or lawyers. But anybody can quickly become “an anthropologist”. We are used to be less rigorous than many other fields, and probably this has not enhanced the visibility of the discipline …

  10. To do anything about these issues of public conception, we have to be a bit more honest among ourselves and shine a little bit of that, often overblown, self-reflexivity back on our own areas of incompetence. We are perhaps one of the only social scientists that after getting an MA/MS still don’t know how to do any kind of systematic fieldwork or data analysis. That’s just a fact.

    We don’t need to hold ourselves to the standards of other fields, but we sure should hold ourselves to the standards of our own discipline. If I were to hand the average anthro a copy of Bernard’s “Methods in Anthropology,” how many would even be aware of most of the methods in the book; let alone how to do them? Half of the book are quant methods, and I can count the number of anthros on one hand that could do the simplest things for that half, with most telling other that those things aren’t anthropology or ethnography. We used to be able to do those things, and some of us strive to keep anthropology a systematic, transparent process, but you won’t see this at the AAA meetings.

    I’ve got my BA in anth, and an MS in applied anth, and after having worked with and among other anths in various gov’t and corporate research environments, I can say that I would never hire a fellow anthropologist as a manager, without extensive interview questions concerning research methods, paradigm believes, etc…
    I’ve worked with anthros from applied Master’s programs who didn’t know how to do even Grounded Theory work! I’m not kidding. I’ve seen the looks on their faces of total confusion when I’ve talked about how we were going to go over transcribed interview text, pull out themes for codes, and then code the data. Even something that basic, not even involving Content Analysis, or Social Network Analysis, or anything you’d expect a professional anthro researcher to be able to do, they’ve never even done that!! These are people that have worked for years!
    There are a lot of anthros, perhaps most, that are no better than journalists with high intuition, but worse research skills. If I hire a chemist, don’t just care if he knows the periodic table, I care if he can measure and combine elements to derives new compounds. If I work with an anthropologist, I don’t just care that they’ve read a lot of theory or stories, I care that they can apply theory and systematic methods of measurement to provide needed data and analysis to solve particular problems, or to understand what problems need to be solved.

    So, let’s be honest with ourselves, and stop crying about others holding us to the same standards that every other professional has to meet. If the only way you think it’s possible to do research or do analysis is to just hang out without a plan, talk to people, read some transcripts, and report the patterns your intuition gave you, then we deserve criticism. Sometimes the problem is us, and instead of getting defensive, maybe we should listen to other people and consider what they’re telling us.

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