Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations to determine the ages of plants, micro-organisms, animals and ancient civilizations. Dating of fossils is derived from the ages of rock layers above and below the fossils in a process called radiometric dating, according to the University of California Berkeley. While many paleontologists work in museums and college research labs, some help recover fossils in the coal and oil industries. Paleontologists earn salaries averaging over $100,000 annually.
Salary and Qualifications
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes paleontologists as geoscientists, which also includes geologists, geochemists and seismologists. They earned average annual salaries of $106,780 as of May 2012, according to the BLS. The top 25 percent made over $130,330 annually. Most paleontologists have master’s or Ph.D. degrees in paleontology. Doctorate degrees are usually necessary for high-level research and professors’ jobs at colleges and universities. To succeed in their field, paleontologists must be knowledgeable about many different sciences, including biology, chemistry, geology and physics. Other essential requirements include math, critical-thinking, problem-solving, interpersonal, speaking, writing and computer skills.
Salary by State
A paleontologist’s salary can vary considerably by state. They earned the highest annual salaries of $153,120 in Oklahoma in 2012, according to the BLS. They also earned relatively high salaries in Texas and Washington, D.C., at $146,800 and $128,040 per year, respectively. Paleontologists who worked in Alaska earned $111,670 annually, while those in Colorado earned salaries closer to the national average at $106,030. Those in California and Pennsylvania earned lower salaries of $95,670 and $67,300, respectively.
Salary by Industry
Besides experience and geographic area, the industry in which paleontologists work also dictates their earnings. They earned the highest salaries of $155,830 per year in the petroleum and coal products manufacturing industry, according to the BLS, and the second and third highest salaries in oil and gas extraction and mining support activities — $149,750 and $140,520. Those who worked for federal and state government agencies made $96,820 and $64,970 per year, respectively. Moreover, paleontologist who teach at universities earn $40,000 to $60,000 for nine months of work, according to The Paleontological Society.
The BLS indicates that jobs for geoscientists, including paleontologists, will increase 21 percent in the next decade, which is faster than the 14 percent growth rate for all jobs. Many job opportunities for paleontologists will be spurred by the demand for responsible land and resource management. A large number of geoscientists and paleontologists are also expected to retire within the next 10 years, which should produce jobs for new entrants in the field.