International relations is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines politics, economics, history and sociology, immersing students in the world of geopolitical issues. Students who major in international relations often dream of careers as diplomats, intelligence analysts or foreign affairs officers. Others apply their education and knowledge toward careers in international business. Recipients of a degree in international relations can look forward to an interesting career with a competitive salary. Career path, level of education, experience and other skills will influence specific salary figures.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2008 average starting and mid-career salaries for degree holders in a wide range of academic majors. The figures reported by the newspaper were based on a national survey of bachelor’s degree recipients. International relations majors earned an average starting salary of $40,900 a year. Compared to other social sciences, international relations majors had higher starting salaries than students who majored in psychology, sociology and anthropology. They earned less than economics majors, who averaged more than $50,000 a year, and about the same as political science majors, who averaged $40,800 a year.
Men and women with international relations degrees can expect to see their earnings increase as they grow in their careers and garner more experience and knowledge. The Wall Street Journal reported that international relations majors had average mid-career salaries of $80,900 a year. Compared to other academic disciplines, international relations majors’ earnings continued to trail those of students who majored in economics and engineering fields, but exceeded those earned by majors in many humanities and social science fields, including history, sociology, English, psychology and political science.
The U.S. government is one of the most significant employers of men and women with international relations degrees. Federal departments such as the departments of State, Commerce, Defense and Homeland Security employ international relations majors as foreign affairs officials, intelligence and foreign affairs analysts. According to Making the Difference, a website jointly operated by the Partnership for Public Service and the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management, an intelligence officer with the Department of Defense can earn between $38,000 and $76,000 a year, while a foreign affairs officer can earn between $80,000 and $116,000 a year.
The federal government’s General Service (GS) salary schedule determines salary levels for most federal jobs. Education is one factor influencing a starting salary with a federal agency. For an international relations job, a master’s degree enables a person to start at a higher GS level, earning a higher starting salary than a bachelor’s degree recipient.