Geographers

What Geographers Do

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWZxnXzhet0

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 $81,540 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of geographers is projected to decline 1 percent from 2019 to 2029.

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.

Geographers held about 1,600 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of geographers were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 61%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 7
Architectural, engineering, and related services 6

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.

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

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Anthropologists and Archeologists

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

Master’s degree $63,670

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 $65,470

Economists

Economists

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

Master’s degree $105,020

Geoscientists

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth.

Bachelor’s degree $92,040

Market Research Analysts

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

Bachelor’s degree $63,790

Political Scientists

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

Master’s degree $122,220

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 $79,540

Surveying and Mapping Technicians

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

High school diploma or equivalent $45,010

Surveyors

Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries.

Bachelor’s degree $63,420

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 $74,350

For more information about geographers, visit

Association of American Geographers

For more information about geographic information systems (GIS) certification, visit

American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing

GIS Certification Institute

For information about federal government education requirements for geographer positions, visit

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

O*NET

Geographers


Suggested citation:

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