Fossils provide a tangible link to how life on Earth was millions of years ago. Paleontologists are the geological scientists who study fossils and piece together complex pictures of the historical ecology of the planet. Salary levels for the role reflect the specialised knowledge required for this career, although location and employer are also factors.
As part of its survey of employment trends in the U.S. conducted in May 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics categorised paleontologists with their fellow geoscientists, including seismologists, volcanologists, crystallographers and mineralogists. It reported that the average yearly pay for these professionals was £60,697. Calculated from data supplied by over 30,000 individuals working within the field, this equates to a monthly wage of £5,058 and an hourly rate of £29.10. At the time of publication, the Career Builder website listed the average salary for a paleontologist specifically as £53,587 per annum.
Pay by Industry
Many paleontologists work for government agencies, such as environmental protection and regulation, and research. The bureau listed the average salaries for geoscientists employed by the federal executive branch as £62,127, while positions within state government had an average of £40,872. Practitioners may also work within management, scientific and technical consulting services, which paid an average of £48,093.
Pay by Location
Location can also cause wide variations in pay for paleontologists. At the time of publication, the city surveyed by the Salary Expert website with the highest pay rate for paleontologists is Houston, with an average yearly salary of £80,869; Dallas has an average of £64,376; Los Angeles, California placed third at £46,060. The cities with the lowest averages are Orlando, with £36,019 per year, and Atlanta, with £34,190 per year.
The bureau reported that across the geoscience profession, and across all industry sectors for it, the highest wages were available in Oklahoma and Texas, averaging £84,415 and £81,295, respectively. Wage levels were comparable between Massachusetts and District of Columbia -- £66,339 and £65,721, respectively -- while Wyoming was at just £44,011.
The bureau predicts that for geoscientists such as paleontologists, and their counterparts working within the hydrological sciences, the job market will grow by around 18 per cent between 2008 and 2018. This is a faster rate of growth than that posited across all occupations in the country, expected to be somewhere between 7 and 13 per cent through 2018. For paleontologists, this growth will mainly be fuelled by an increased focus on environmental protection, which should mean salary levels for the role stay competitive.