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What Is a Developmental Psychologist?

Learn More About a Career as a Developmental Psychologist


Developmental Psychologists

Some developmental psychologists work to assess, evaluate and treat children with developmental disabilities or delays.

Kim Gunkel - iStockPhoto

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.

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 helping us live up to our full potential.

What Do 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.

Where Do 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 suffering from 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 Do Developmental Psychologists Earn?

Average salaries for developmental psychologists can vary based on training, geographic location and work setting. According to the Salary Wizard at Salary.com, the median earnings for developmental psychologists were between $69,007 and $90,326 a year for 2009. The highest ten percent of earners made more than $101,088 per year.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook reports the following median salaries for individuals working in the following settings where developmental psychologists are frequently employed:

  • Offices of other health practitioners - $68,400
  • Elementary and secondary schools - $65,710
  • State government - $63,710
  • Outpatient care centers - $59,130
  • Individual and family services - $57,440

What Training Is 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, hospital, mental health clinics and rehabilitation centers. In most case, 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 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, "The growing number of elderly will increase the demand for psychologists trained in geropsychology to help people deal with the mental and physical changes that occur as individuals grow older. There also will be increased need for psychologists to work with returning veterans."


Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010). Psychologists: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011. Found online at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos056.htm

Salary Wizard (2010). Found online at http://swz.salary.com/

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