Geographers

Summary

geographers image
Geographers often present their research to colleagues or other stakeholders.
Quick Facts: Geographers
2015 Median Pay $74,260 per year
$35.70 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 1,400
Job Outlook, 2014-24 -2% (Decline)
Employment Change, 2014-24 0

What Geographers Do

Geographers study the Earth and its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine phenomena such as political or cultural structures and study the physical and human geographic characteristics of regions ranging in scale from local to global.

Work Environment

More than half of all geographers are employed by the federal government. Most work full time during standard business hours. Many geographers do fieldwork, which may include travel to foreign countries or remote locations.

How to Become a Geographer

Geographers need a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions and for positions within the federal government. Work experience and a master’s degree are typically required for more advanced positions.

Pay

The median annual wage for geographers was $74,260 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of geographers is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Geographers should face strong competition for jobs as the number of candidates is expected to exceed the number of available positions.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for geographers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of geographers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about geographers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Geographers Do

Geographers
Individuals with a geography degree may become teachers or professors.

Geographers study the Earth and its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine phenomena such as political or cultural structures and study the physical and human geographic characteristics of regions ranging in scale from local to global.

Duties

Geographers typically do the following:

  • Gather geographic data through field observations, maps, photographs, satellite imagery, and censuses
  • Conduct research, using methods such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups
  • Create and modify maps, graphs, diagrams, or other visual representations of geographic data
  • Analyze the geographic distribution of physical and cultural characteristics and occurrences
  • Use geographic information systems (GIS) to collect, analyze, and display geographic data
  • Write reports and present research findings
  • Assist, advise, or lead others in using GIS and geographic data
  • Combine geographic data with data pertaining to a particular specialty, such as economics, the environment, health, or politics

Geographers use several technologies in their work, such as GIS, remote sensing, and global positioning systems (GPS). Geographers use GIS to find relationships and trends in geographic data. These systems allow geographers to present data visually as maps, reports, and charts. For example, geographers can overlay aerial or satellite images with GIS data, such as population density in a given region, and create computerized maps. They then use the maps to guide governments, businesses, and the general public on a variety of issues, such as developing marketing strategies; planning homes, roads, and landfills; and responding to disasters.

Many people who study geography and who use GIS in their work are employed as surveyors, cartographers and photogrammetrists, surveying and mapping technicians, urban and regional planners, and geoscientists.

The following are examples of types of geographers:

Physical geographers examine the physical aspects of a region and how those aspects relate to humans. They study features of the natural environment, such as landforms, climates, soils, natural hazards, water, and plants. For example, physical geographers may map where a natural resource occurs in a country or study the implications of proposed economic development on the surrounding natural environment.

Human geographers analyze the organization of human activity and its relationships with the physical environment. Human geographers often combine issues from other disciplines into their research, which may include economic, social, or political topics. In their research, some human geographers rely primarily on statistical techniques and others rely on non-statistical sources, such as field observations and interviews.

Human geographers are often further classified by their area of specialty:

  • Cultural geographers examine the relationship between geography and culture, studying how features such as religion, language, and ethnicity relate to location.
  • Economic geographers study economic activities and the distribution of resources. They may research subjects such as regional employment and the location of industries. 
  • Environmental geographers research the impact humans have on the environment and how human activities affect natural processes. They combine aspects of both physical and human geography and commonly study issues such as climate change, desertification, and deforestation. 
  • Medical geographers investigate the distribution of health issues, healthcare, and disease. For example, a medical geographer may examine the incidence of disease in a certain region. 
  • Political geographers study the relationship between geography and political structures and processes. 
  • Regional geographers focus on the geographic factors in a particular region that ranges in size from a neighborhood to an entire continent. 
  • Urban geographers study cities and metropolitan areas. They may examine how certain geographic factors, such as climate, affect population density in cities. 

Geographers often work on projects with people in related fields. For example, economic geographers may work with urban planners, civil engineers, legislators, and real estate professionals to determine the best location for new public transportation infrastructure.

Some people with a geography degree become postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment

Geographers
Some geographers travel to do fieldwork.

Geographers held about 1,400 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most geographers were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 58%
Engineering services 10
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 8
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 8

Many geographers do fieldwork to gather information and data. For example, geographers often make site visits to observe geographic features, such as the landscape and environment. Some geographers travel to the region they are studying, and sometimes that means working in foreign countries and remote locations.

Work Schedules

Most geographers work full time during standard business hours.

How to Become a Geographer

Geographers
Geographers use maps and global positioning systems in their work.

Geographers need a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions and for positions within the federal government. Work experience and a master’s degree are typically required for more advanced positions.

Education

Geographers with a bachelor’s degree qualify for most entry-level jobs and for positions with the federal government. Geographers outside of the federal government may need a master’s degree in geography or in geographic information systems (GIS). Some positions allow candidates to substitute work experience or GIS proficiency for an advanced degree. Top research positions usually require a Ph.D. or a master’s degree and several years of relevant work experience.

Most geography programs include courses in both physical and human geography, statistics or math, remote sensing, and GIS. In addition, courses in a specialized area of expertise are becoming increasingly important because the geography field is broad and interdisciplinary. For example, business, economics, or real estate courses are becoming increasingly important for geographers working in private industry.

Positions for geography professors require a Ph.D. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Other Experience

Students and new graduates often gain experience through internships. This type of practical experience allows students to develop new skills, explore their interests, and become familiar with the industry. Internships can be useful for jobseekers, because some employers prefer workers who have practical experience.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although certification is not required, most positions require geographers to be proficient in GIS, and certification can demonstrate a level of professional expertise. The GIS Certification Institute offers the GIS professional (GISP) certification for geographers. Candidates may qualify for certification through a combination of education, professional experience, and contributions to the profession, such as publications or participation in conferences. The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing also offers certification in GIS. Candidates may qualify for certification with 3 years of experience in GIS, four references, and the completion of a written exam.  

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Geographers commonly analyze information and spatial data from a variety of sources, such as maps, photographs, and censuses. They must then be able to draw conclusions from their analyses of different sets of data.

Communication skills. Geographers must be able to communicate with coworkers; present, explain, and defend their research; and work well on teams.

Computer skills. Geographers must be proficient in GIS programming and database management and should be comfortable creating and manipulating digital images in the software.

Critical-thinking skills. Geographers need critical-thinking skills when doing research because they must choose the appropriate data, methods, and scale of analysis for projects. For example, after reviewing a set of population data, they may determine the implications of a particular development plan.

Writing skills. Geographers often write reports or articles detailing their research findings. They also may need to write proposals so that they can receive funding for their research or projects.

Pay

Geographers

Median annual wages, May 2015

Geographers

$74,260

Social scientists and related workers

$72,570

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for geographers was $74,260 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,450, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $102,930.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for geographers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $83,200
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 61,920
Engineering services 58,800
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 41,160

Many geographers work full time during regular business hours. 

Job Outlook

Geographers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Social scientists and related workers

12%

Total, all occupations

7%

Geographers

-2%

 

Employment of geographers is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024.

More than half of all geographers are employed in the federal government. Governments and businesses rely on geographers to research topics such as natural hazards, the use of resources, and climate change. However, efforts to cut spending are expected to result in a decline in federal government employment, adversely impacting employment of geographers.

Job Prospects

Job seekers can expect strong competition for jobs because of the small size of the occupation. Those with master’s degrees, specialized subject matter expertise, and experience working with geographic technologies, such as geographic information systems (GIS), should have the best job prospects. Workers who have used geographic technologies to complete projects and solve problems within their specialized subfields should have better job opportunities.

Many workers with a background in geography find geography-related jobs, but most of these positions do not have the title of geographer. Some of these occupations are surveyors, cartographers and photogrammetrists, surveying and mapping technicians, urban and regional planners, and geoscientists.

Employment projections data for geographers, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Geographers

19-3092 1,400 1,400 -2 0 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of geographers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
Anthropologists and archeologists

Anthropologists and Archeologists

Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the cultures, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.

Master's degree $61,220
Cartographers and photogrammetrists

Cartographers and Photogrammetrists

Cartographers and photogrammetrists collect, measure, and interpret geographic information in order to create and update maps and charts for regional planning, education, emergency response, and other purposes.

Bachelor's degree $61,880
Economists

Economists

Economists study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services by collecting and analyzing data, researching trends, and evaluating economic issues.

Master's degree $99,180
Geoscientists

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.

Bachelor's degree $89,700
Market research analysts

Market Research Analysts

Market research analysts study market conditions to examine potential sales of a product or service. They help companies understand what products people want, who will buy them, and at what price.

Bachelor's degree $62,150
Political scientists

Political Scientists

Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems. They research political ideas and analyze governments, policies, political trends, and related issues.

Master's degree $99,730
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $72,470
Sociologists

Sociologists

Sociologists study society and social behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations, social institutions, and processes that develop when people interact and work together.

Master's degree $73,760
Surveying and mapping technicians

Surveying and Mapping Technicians

Surveying and mapping technicians collect data and make maps of the Earth’s surface. Surveying technicians visit sites to take measurements of the land. Mapping technicians use geographic data to create maps. They both assist surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists.

High school diploma or equivalent $42,010
Surveyors

Surveyors

Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries. They provide data relevant to the shape and contour of the Earth’s surface for engineering, mapmaking, and construction projects.

Bachelor's degree $58,020
Urban and regional planners

Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners develop land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.

Master's degree $68,220
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Geographers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geographers.htm (visited April 30, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015