Salary Outlook with Ph.D. in Social Work Degree

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In most fields, earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree, or Ph.D., represents the pinnacle of educational and academic achievement. The same is often true for students with educational and professional experience in the field of social work. While it’s not the only possible doctoral degree in the field, a Ph.D. in Social Work can be the next best step to a social work career that’s rewarding both professionally and financially.

What should potential social work Ph.D. students know about their degree options, possible career paths and what federal data indicates about their long-term career outlook?

What’s On This Page

  • Social Work Doctorate Options
  • Social Work Career Tracks
  • Social Work PhD Salary Outlook
  • Social Work Ph.D. Salary by State
  • Projected Social Work Ph.D. Jobs

Social Work Doctorate Options

Two main types of doctoral degrees are available in social work — a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and a Ph.D. in Social Work. It’s not typical for one college or university to offer both types of degrees, and it usually comes down to the programmatic focus of the institution’s social work department.

Generally, DSW programs are geared more toward the professional practice of social work. In this way, these degrees can be considered equivalent to the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), which was developed in the 1970s to train practicing psychologists.

SEE ALSO: Top 5 Online DSW Social Work Programs

Social work Ph.D. degree programs will usually be more focused on conducting in-depth academic and lab-based research into various facets of social work to help build upon the body of literature in the field.

Of course, those with a Ph.D. in Social Work may go on to become practicing social workers, and it’s possible to earn a DSW and have a flourishing career in research. But generally, social work Ph.D. programs will be more heavily skewed toward research while DSW programs will be heavy on clinical experiences.

Social Work PhD Career Tracks

There isn’t one single possible career path once you’ve completed a Ph.D. in Social Work, and there are many types of jobs a Ph.D.-holder is qualified to fill. Here’s a look at the possible options by the type of job:

Social Work Ph.D. career options by industry

Education Social Work Business Research
College Professor Therapist Human Resources Director Applied Researcher
School Counselor Licensed Clinical Social Worker Training and Development Manager Policy Researcher
Special Education Teacher Mental Health Counselor Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Lab Director

Depending on the job they’re seeking, Ph.D. in Social Work graduates may need to clear additional licensure and certification hurdles. This is especially true for those seeking jobs that are public-facing, such as Special Education Teacher or Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Be sure to consult the laws and rules in your state.

Social Work PhD Salary Overview

Having a Ph.D. vastly increases a person’s earnings potential. In fact, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates say that a Ph.D.-holder will earn about double the average high school graduate’s income. While that’s not necessarily surprising, those who have completed a Ph.D. also have median income that’s about one-third higher than a typical college graduate.

What can Social Work Ph.D. graduates expect to make in the state where they live? To figure that out, we analyzed data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and calculated an average income figure for each state across a total of seven possible job titles, which are listed below. For a few states, certain job titles were not available, so they were not included to ensure that state’s average wasn’t unfairly lowered.

  • Child, Family and School Social Workers
  • Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists
  • General Social Workers
  • Health Social Workers
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
  • Social and Community Service Managers
  • Social Work Professors

Social work Ph.D. salaries are the highest in the District of Columbia, where the average for the seven jobs is nearly $85,000. Not far behind are New Jersey and California, with New York and Rhode Island rounding out the top five. The average wage for the seven social work jobs was lowest in Montana and Oklahoma.

Average annual social work Ph.D. salary by state

District of Columbia $84,648.00
New Jersey $78,402.86
California $78,150.00
New York $75,932.86
Rhode Island $75,133.33
Connecticut $73,370.00
Maryland $70,991.43
Nevada $69,796.67
Oregon $69,638.57
Washington $69,107.14
New Hampshire $68,500.00
Virginia $68,300.00
Hawaii $68,134.00
Minnesota $68,130.00
Alaska $67,430.00
Massachusetts $66,908.57
Colorado $66,408.57
North Dakota $66,144.29
Michigan $64,828.57
Utah $63,881.43
Louisiana $63,534.29
Illinois $63,254.29
Delaware $62,967.14
Georgia $62,358.33
North Carolina $62,104.29
Maine $62,011.43
Texas $61,467.14
Ohio $61,105.71
Kansas $60,914.29
Wisconsin $60,371.43
Pennsylvania $60,198.57
Iowa $60,040.00
Indiana $59,730.00
Wyoming $59,481.67
South Dakota $59,331.43
Florida $59,154.29
Vermont $59,076.67
Arizona $58,595.71
New Mexico $58,303.33
Tennessee $57,877.14
Nebraska $57,860.00
Missouri $56,908.57
Idaho $56,525.00
Alabama $55,261.43
Kentucky $54,392.86
Mississippi $53,681.43
Arkansas $53,174.29
South Carolina $52,015.00
West Virginia $51,930.00
Oklahoma $51,777.14
Montana $49,788.33

The average national wage for the seven social work jobs we analyzed was about $60,000, and Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists had the highest average annual wage. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers had the lowest average national wage at just over $49,000.

Average annual U.S. salary, selected social work Ph.D. jobs

Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists $81,417.20
Postsecondary Social Work Teachers $73,510.00
Social and Community Service Managers $70,425.69
General Social Workers $62,053.00
All $60,170.64
Healthcare Social Workers $57,704.12
Child, Family and School Social Workers $49,448.04
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers $49,151.20

In every state for which data is available, social work Ph.D. job openings will expand over the next several years. Some states will have very rapid growth, while others will have much less robust expansion rates. Projection data was not available for six states (Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington) for enough social work Ph.D. jobs to create a fair analysis.

On average, Utah has the highest projected growth rate for social work Ph.D. jobs, with openings expected to rise by nearly 30% through 2028. Colorado and New York also are expected to see job growth of almost 25%. Maine’s average growth rate of about 3% is the lowest.

Average projected growth in job openings by state, 2018-2028

Utah 28.57%
Colorado 24.86%
New York 24.33%
Maryland 19.27%
Nevada 17.12%
Florida 16.43%
Iowa 16.26%
Georgia 15.32%
Tennessee 14.63%
Oregon 14.47%
Wyoming 13.93%
Indiana 13.84%
New Hampshire 13.72%
Arkansas 13.46%
Idaho 13.07%
North Carolina 12.19%
Pennsylvania 11.78%
California 11.62%
Montana 11.43%
Louisiana 11.37%
New Mexico 11.26%
Delaware 11.21%
West Virginia 11.05%
Missouri 10.87%
Connecticut 10.86%
Virginia 10.83%
New Jersey 10.49%
Hawaii 10.36%
Ohio 10.23%
South Carolina 10.10%
Vermont 9.95%
South Dakota 9.93%
District of Columbia 9.87%
Nebraska 9.86%
Minnesota 9.74%
Oklahoma 8.80%
North Dakota 8.54%
Alaska 7.95%
Kansas 7.09%
Rhode Island 6.80%
Wisconsin 6.70%
Michigan 5.44%
Illinois 5.10%
Mississippi 4.89%
Maine 2.97%

Similarly, all jobs are expected to experience positive growth across the country, led by a nearly 18% expansion rate projected for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers, while General Social Worker jobs are expected to grow by about 6.2%.

Average U.S. projected growth in psychology Ph.D. job openings, 2018-2028

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 17.79%
Healthcare Social Workers 16.45%
Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists 16.12%
Social and Community Service Managers 12.76%
All 12.2%
Child, Family and School Social Workers 8.23%
Postsecondary Social Work Teachers 7.88%
General Social Workers 6.22%


Careers in social work can be challenging but for those who are dedicated to making a difference, they also can be quite rewarding. Earning a Ph.D. in Social Work is often an ideal way to supercharge career earnings and open up new avenues of professional experience.