Skip to main content

What is Anthropology?

What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of humankind. Specifically, the study of what makes us human and how the diversity of our humanity helps us engage with the world differently.

Students at a Seed Table

WCU Anthropology students at a Seed Swap Event

Anthropology is a broad social science discipline that allows for the study of culture, biology, history, and language (just to name a few things) within the context of human diversity.

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that they were anticipating a 3% increase in anthropology and archaeology jobs for the period of 2016-2026, reflecting an increase of ~300 anthropology and archaeology jobs overall (Anthropologist Overview 2018). Additionally, the BLS ranked anthropology as #4 in best science jobs and #21 in best jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). These rankings are based on a comparison of all jobs the BLS examines using seven criteria: median salary; employment rate; 10-year growth volume; 10-year growth percentage; future job prospects; stress level; and work-life balance.

As a social science, Anthropology prepares you to understand people; particularly people with different backgrounds or worldviews. Because Anthropologists have been trained to examine human diversity, they are very well suited to work with people, and/or study how people work.

Multiple studies have attempted to quantify the likelihood of occupational automation based on the primary types of skills used by various occupations. One such study examined 702 different occupations in terms of their likelihood to be automated based on variables describing the level of perception and manipulation, creativity, and social intelligence required to perform them (Frey and Osborne 2013). This study found that anthropology/archaeology ranked 663 out of 702, meaning that there is a very low probability (0.077) of this career being replaced by automation. This is precisely because the tasks and skills which are important for anthropology (e.g., communication, problem solving) are those which are the most difficult to automate.

Generally, skills gained during education are split between soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are interpersonal skills which may be learned as part of any educational program (e.g., communication, teamwork, problem solving, time management), while hard skills are more discipline specific and learned in various topical courses (e.g., archaeological recovery methods, forensic anthropological laboratory methods, participant observation, etc.).

Data USA, a company which aggregates public data about various aspects of the United States, shows that the six most important soft skills (in order) for anthropologists are: reading comprehension; writing; speaking; critical thinking; active listening; and judgment and decision making. Further, based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Data USA argues that a Revealed Comparative Advantage (RCA) analysis shows that anthropology students need a greater than average amount of science; systems analysis; and operations analysis in their education in comparison to other majors.

Within the context of anthropology, these data make sense when you consider that anthropology is the holistic study of humankind and that anthropologists uniquely take a biocultural approach when performing their analyses. The biocultural approach is essentially framing questions regarding human diversity within the greater context of the interconnectivity of human biology and human culture through cultural adaptations. As such, the types of things anthropologists are inherently good at are interpersonal and cross-cultural communication (e.g., reading comprehension, writing, speaking, active listening) as well as problem solving (e.g., critical thinking judgment and decision marking).

For more information about anthropology as a major, see:

Anthropology, the best major to change your life, and the world

The usefulness of anthropology

Employers will want you to have experience that shows application of your skillset. You should seek out experiences that will give you bullet points in a resume or talking points in an interview. Valuable experiences include field work or volunteering/interning with an organization you like. Character building in the form of travel or charity work shows that you seek out ways to interact with people from various cultures. In your coursework, choose your electives in ways that broaden your horizons. Statistics and writing are valuable courses for all sub-fields of anthropology and being able to analyze large datasets is attractive to employers in the business sector. Courses in any form of technology: computer programming, microscopy, radiology, drawing, photography, etc. are also applicable.

Government and Non-profit agencies

Businesses and consulting firms


Laboratories and medical examiner’s offices

Museums, libraries, and zoos

Colleges and universities (as educators and administrators)

Advocacy groups and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

Office of Web Services