Psychology and sociology are similar careers in that both deal with people. Psychologists may deal with people individually or in groups, while sociologists are interested in society as a whole. Either may specialize in a particular area of her discipline, as there is infinite variety in people, their thoughts and their activities. One area of difference is salaries; sociologists earned an average of $79,460 a year in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while psychologists earned $73,090 to $124,160 a year, depending on the specialty.
Careers in psychology or sociology start with lots of time learning. Both careers need a minimum of a master’s degree. Some psychologists -- such as clinical, counseling and research psychologists -- are required to have a doctorate, and many sociologists also pursue advanced degrees. Sociology master’s degree programs include traditional programs, which prepare a student for a Ph.D. program, and applied, clinical or professional programs that teach students to perform sociological research in a professional setting. In psychology, a Psy.D. -- doctorate in psychology -- is a clinical degree. School psychologists usually must have a degree in school psychology, rather than general psychology.
Psychologists and sociologists usually specialize in a particular area of their professions. For sociologists, the specialties include health, crime, education, racial relations, ethnic issues, families, population, gender, poverty and aging. They may also teach or take a right-hand turn into a related field, such as policy analysis or statistical analysis. Clinical psychologists help people with mental illness; they may specialize further into how psychological factors affect people’s health and illnesses or into neuropsychology -- the relationship between brain and behavior. Psychologists may also specialize in developmental issues for people of all ages; in forensics, the interface between law and psychology; or in education-related issues, such as behavioral problems and student performance.
Sociologists are primarily researchers -- they are the folks behind all those questions in telephone surveys. They study human cultures, organizations and the ways in which institutions affect groups of people. They spend considerable time collecting and analyzing data; creating reports, presentations and articles from their findings; and advising governments or institutions involved in social change. Psychologists may perform research, but they also do a lot of hands-on tasks, such as clinical care and counseling or psychological testing. They may work with people who are mentally ill or help them make behavior changes -- a possible solution for hubby always leaving the lid off the toothpaste.
There are not nearly as many sociologists in the United States as there are psychologists -- about 4,000 were employed in 2010, according to the BLS. Most worked in research and development or in schools and universities. The profession is expected to grow about 18 percent between 2010 and 20200, slightly faster than the U.S. average, according to the BLS. There were about 174,000 psychologists employed in the United States in 2010, according to the BLS, in workplace settings such as private practice, hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities. The profession is expected to grow between 2010 and 2020, especially for industrial-organizational psychologists, whose job prospects may grow at more than double the average rate for all jobs, according to the BLS.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.