Is a Career as a Developmental Psychologist Right for You?

Learn More About This Career Opportunity

Developmental psychologist with kids.
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Developmental psychologists study the human growth and development that occurs throughout the entire lifespan. This includes not only physical development but also cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality, and emotional growth. These professionals play an important role in adding to our understanding of how people change throughout life, help address developmental concerns, and work to offer assistance to children and adults facing developmental problems.

Why the Work of Developmental Psychologists Is Important

The study of human development is important not only to psychology but also to biology, anthropology, sociology, education, and history. Developmental psychologists help us better understand how people change and grow and then apply this knowledge to help us live up to our full potential.

Why is the study of development so important? Developmental psychologists are able to use their knowledge to look at how people mature and the different factors that influence this change and growth. By understanding the typical rates at which people mature and the specific things that typically take place at each stage, psychologists can better identify when children and adults may need special assistance or intervention. 

While children tend to follow certain patterns of development, all people reach certain milestones at their own pace. Some children learn to walk before they turn one, for example, while others may take until around 15 or 16 months. The knowledge provided by developmental psychologists allows professionals and parents to understand what's typical, but also to watch for potential problems that might require some type of assistance or intervention.

What Developmental Psychologists Do

The specific tasks performed by developmental psychologists may vary somewhat based on the specialty area in which they work. Some developmental psychologists focus on working with a specific population, such as developmentally delayed children. Others specialize in studying a particular age range, such as adolescence or old age.

Some of the tasks that a developmental psychologist might do include:

  • Evaluating children to determine if they have a developmental disability
  • Investigating how language skills are acquired
  • Studying how moral reasoning develops in children
  • Exploring ways to help elderly individuals remain independent
  • Researching infant development
  • Studying treatments for developmental issues associated with the aging process

Where Developmental Psychologists Work

Developmental psychologists can work in a wide range of settings. Some work in educational settings at colleges and universities, often conducting research on developmental topics while also teaching courses.

Others may work in government agencies to help assess, evaluate, and treat individuals diagnosed with developmental disabilities. Other possible areas of employment include assisted living homes for the elderly, teen rehabilitation clinics, centers for the homeless, psychiatric clinics, and hospitals.

How Much Developmental Psychologists Earn

Average salaries for developmental psychologists can vary based on training, geographic location, and work setting.

According to Salary.com, the median salary for developmental psychologists was $69,861 as of early 2020. The highest 10% of earners made more than $87,317 per year.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the following average salaries for individuals working in the following settings where developmental psychologists are frequently employed:

  • Hospitals; local and private - $86,530
  • Offices of other mental health practitioners other than physicians - $96,930
  • Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private - $75,890
  • Government - $96,410
  • Individual and family services - $85,810

Payscale.com suggests that the average annual salary for developmental psychologists was $63,500 as of August 2019.

Training Needed to Become a Developmental Psychologist

While there are limited employment options at the master’s degree level, those holding a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in developmental psychology will find the greatest range of employment opportunities. Individuals with a doctorate degree can teach at the university level and can be employed in private practices, hospitals, mental health clinics, and rehabilitation centers.

In most cases, students start by earning an undergraduate degree in psychology. They may then continue on to earn a master’s degree followed by a doctorate, or they may go straight from an undergraduate degree into a Ph.D. program.

Job Outlook for Developmental Psychologists

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job growth among psychologists is expected to occur at an above average rate over the next decade.

The demand for professionals to assess, evaluate, diagnose, and treat students with mental, developmental, and emotional issues may help spur a need for developmental psychologists.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook suggests that "Psychologists also will be needed to provide services to an aging population, helping people deal with the mental and physical changes that happen as they grow older."

A Word From Verywell

Developmental psychologists have made major contributions to our understanding of how children and adults change and grow all through life. While we often think developmental psychology focuses primarily on childhood, many important events take place as people grow older.

By gaining a better understanding of these processes, psychologists are able to provide better prevention and treatments for developmental concerns that might affect a person's well-being at various points in life.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Toddler development. Updated March 23, 2020.

  2. Salary.com. Developmental psychologist.

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychologists. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Updated September 4, 2019.

  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational employment and wages, May 2018, 19-3031 clinical, counseling, and school psychologists. Updated March 29, 2019.

  5. PayScale. Average developmental psychologist salary. Updated August 2, 2019.