What’s the Difference Between Social Work and Sociology?

There are some similarities between social work and sociology, but these fields are different disciplines that can lead to varying career paths. If you want to have a career that focuses on helping people with societal issues, you may be considering whether social work vs. sociology is right for you. 

Social Workers vs. Sociologists

What does a social worker do? Social workers work in schools, hospitals, community venues, addiction treatment centers and other environments where people may be experiencing challenges to living everyday life. They may work with a variety of clients or they may specialize in a specific issue, such as child abuse or poverty. Some licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) are also able to diagnose, and all social workers help address mental health issues. 

Social workers are similar to sociologists, but there are a few differences. What does a sociologist do? Sociologists research social behavior, test theories and prepare research reports. They may collaborate with administrators, lawmakers, educators and even social workers. An important part of the job is presenting analysis and conclusions to help improve social institutions and processes.

One main difference between sociology vs. social work is that sociology is focused on research and presenting findings, while social work typically focuses on providing social services to individuals, families and groups. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that social workers are most often employed by individual and family services, while sociologists tend to work in research and development settings

Although it’s not a requirement, a master’s is the preferred degree for both career paths. A bachelor’s degree may allow social workers to enter the field in an administrative position, but they must complete a master’s degree in social work and pass a licensing exam to work independently in clinical positions. Sociologists typically need a master’s degree or PhD in sociology to enter the field. 

Social Worker Skills vs. Sociologist Skills

Both social workers and sociologists have an interest in helping people and improving social institutions—however, there are some skill sets that are specific to each role.

Social workers may benefit from having strong communication skills, emotional skills and relationship-building skills. This may help them establish an effective rapport with their clients and colleagues. Problem-solving, time management and organizational skills may also help social workers succeed.

Comparatively, sociologists spend more time researching and analyzing rather than directly working with clients. Still, excellent communication skills may help sociologists while they’re conducting interviews and collaborating with colleagues. Other crucial sociologist skills include the ability to analyze data and think critically about information. 

What’s the Difference Between a Social Work Degree and Sociology Degree?

One of the first steps to becoming a social worker or sociologist is to complete the required education. A bachelor’s degree in social work is designed to prepare you to work with clients in a variety of environments. Throughout your bachelor’s degree program, you’ll learn about different social services and gain the knowledge and skills to practice with individuals, families, groups and communities. Bachelor’s in sociology degrees may have more of an emphasis on research methods, statistics and analysis, and how society deals with complex issues such as sexuality, death or social justice. 

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you can move on to graduate school. A master’s in social work program may focus on theoretical frameworks and topics such as mental health, trauma, addiction and child welfare. Part of the curriculum will likely involve working hands-on with clients through a field education experience, internship or supervised practicum.

In a master’s in sociology program, you may expect to learn about research methods to perform sociological research. Throughout the program, you’ll see how sociological theories can help answer social questions involving topics such as gender, sexuality, nationality and race. Some sociology master’s programs also include internships.

Social Work vs. Sociology Salary

According to the BLS, the 2020 median pay for social workers was $51,760 per year and 2020 median pay for sociologists was $86,110 per year.

When comparing the average sociology vs. social work salary, it’s important to keep in mind that social work salaries can vary widely depending on the social worker’s level of education, employer and specialization. For example, the BLS has found that healthcare social workers tend to earn more than school social workers. In addition, social workers who work in local government often have higher salaries than those working in individual and family services. 

Social Worker vs. Sociologist—Which Career Is Better?

Social work and sociology career paths look promising in terms of expected job growth in the next decade. According to the BLS, there were 715,600 social worker jobs in 2020, with 89,200 new social worker jobs projected to be created between 2020 and 2030. That’s a growth rate of 12%—faster than the average for all U.S. occupations.

Sociologists are not nearly as commonplace as social workers, but this career path is still expected to grow slightly. The BLS reports that there were 3,000 sociologist jobs in 2020. From 2020 to 2030, it is estimated that sociologist jobs will grow by about 5%. 

Whether you decide on a career in social work or sociology is entirely up to you and should be based on your preferred focus. Sociology may be a good fit if you are looking for a research-heavy career, while social work may be right for those who want to work directly with clients.

Last updated February 2022