Bureau of Labor Statistics

Geographers

geographers image
Geographers use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) equipment to create maps.
Quick Facts: Geographers
2018 Median Pay $80,300 per year
$38.60 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2018 1,500
Job Outlook, 2018-28 3% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2018-28 0

Summary

What Geographers Do

Geographers study the Earth and the distribution of its land, features, and inhabitants.

Work Environment

Most geographers 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 $80,300 in May 2018.

Job Outlook

Employment of geographers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2018 to 2028, slower than the average for all occupations. 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
Geographers use maps and global positioning systems in their work.

Geographers study the Earth and the distribution of its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine 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 via surveys, interviews, and focus groups
  • Create and modify maps or other visual representations of geographic data
  • Analyze the geographic distribution of physical and cultural characteristics and occurrences
  • Collect, analyze, and display geographic data with Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Write reports and present research findings
  • Assist, advise, or lead others in using GIS and geographic data
  • Link 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 digital maps. They then use the maps to inform 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.

The following are examples of types of geographers:

Physical geographers examine the physical aspects of a region and how they 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, environmental, medical, cultural, social, or political topics. In their research, some human geographers rely primarily on statistical techniques or quantitative methods, and others rely on nonstatistical sources or qualitative methods, such as field observations and interviews.

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

Some people with a geography degree become postsecondary teachers.

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, or geoscientists.

Work Environment

Geographers
Some geographers travel to do fieldwork.

Geographers held about 1,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of geographers were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 60%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 6
Architectural, engineering, and related services 5

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 regular business hours.

How to Become a Geographer

Geographers
Geographers may perform fieldwork as part of their education.

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 specialized areas 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.

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 geography in practice. 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 passing of a written exam.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Geographers 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.

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

Speaking skills. Geographers must be able to communicate with coworkers; present, explain, and defend their research; and be a contributing member of teams.

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 2018

Geographers

$80,300

Social scientists and related workers

$78,650

Total, all occupations

$38,640

 

The median annual wage for geographers was $80,300 in May 2018. 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 $50,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $109,900.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for geographers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $86,310
Architectural, engineering, and related services 68,540
State government, excluding education and hospitals 59,430

Most geographers work full time during regular business hours.

Job Outlook

Geographers

Percent change in employment, projected 2018-28

Social scientists and related workers

11%

Total, all occupations

5%

Geographers

3%

 

Employment of geographers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2018 to 2028, slower than the average for all occupations.

Governments and businesses rely on geographers to research topics such as natural hazards, the use of resources, and climate change. For example, geographers’ analyses on population distribution and land use are important for infrastructure planning and development used by both governments and businesses.

Job Prospects

Job seekers can expect strong competition for jobs because of the small size of the occupation and large number of potential candidates. 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.

Employment projections data for geographers, 2018-28

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

Occupational Title

Geographers

SOC Code19-3092
Employment, 20181,500
Projected Employment, 20281,600
Percent Change, 2018-283
Numeric Change, 2018-280
Employment by IndustryGet data

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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 2018 MEDIAN PAY
Anthropologists and archeologists

Anthropologists and Archeologists

Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans.

Master's degree $62,410
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, and other purposes.

Bachelor's degree $64,430
Economists

Economists

Economists collect and analyze data, research trends, and evaluate economic issues for resources, goods, and services.

Master's degree $104,340
Geoscientists

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth.

Bachelor's degree $91,130
Market research analysts

Market Research Analysts

Market research analysts study market conditions to examine potential sales of a product or service.

Bachelor's degree $63,120
Political scientists

Political Scientists

Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems.

Master's degree $117,570
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level.

See How to Become One $78,470
Surveying and mapping technicians

Surveying and Mapping Technicians

Surveying and mapping technicians collect data and make maps of the Earth's surface.

High school diploma or equivalent $44,380
Surveyors

Surveyors

Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries.

Bachelor's degree $62,580
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.

Master's degree $73,050

Contacts for More Info

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Geographers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geographers.htm (visited December 06, 2019).

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