Today social work is generally a master’s-level professional field, meaning you need a master’s degree in social work (MSW) to become a social worker. Some states allow you to engage in the practice of social work with a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW), and a few states still permit limited practice with just an associate’s degree in social work (ASW). A doctoral degree in social work (DSW or PhD) opens up the top-tier positions in this field that involve leadership, management, research, teaching, and clinical study.
Salaries tend to increase as you move up to more advanced social work positions, and education is key to opening up these doors for your career. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there are approximately 837,200 social workers employed throughout the nation earning an average salary of $59,521 per year.
Associate’s Degree in Social Work (ASW) Salaries
You can find entry-level employment that’s related to social work with an ASW. This could include things like conducting basic intakes and office-related functions at agencies that provide social work services. An ASW is a good first-step towards gaining introductory experience in this field.
People at the ASW-level are not generally considered social workers so there’s not much official data on ASW-holder salaries. These types of jobs are classified in broader categories like clerical and technician.
However good national data from the BLS is available for the social work salaries at the 10th-percentile, a stand-in for entry-level ASW social work jobs. 10 percent of social workers throughout the nation earn $35,008 per year or less.
At the 10th-percentile level, healthcare social workers and social and community service managers earn the highest salaries, coming in at $36,110 and $42,230, respectively. Mental health and substance abuse social workers earn $30,770 at the 10th-percentile. Child, family, and school social workers earn $32,300 at this level.
Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW) Salaries
In its comprehensive profile of the social work workforce, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) estimated the number of licensed social workers with only a bachelor’s degree was around 350,000. It reported that the average salary for social workers holding a BSW was $38,436.
It followed that report up with a 2020 national survey finding BSW social workers earned an average salary of $44,100. That same survey found 8.6 percent of social workers reported a BSW was a minimum requirement for their job.
The 2017 report also found significant differences in median BSW-holder salaries depending on where a professional worked. For example:
- Outpatient care centers – $32,500
- Administrators of HR programs – $38,000
- Individual and family service agencies – $39,000
- Skilled nursing facilities – $40,000
- Hospitals – $50,000
Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) Salaries
The NASW’s 2017 profile found the average salary for social workers who had a master’s degree was $48,025, nearly $10,000 more than their bachelor’s-only colleagues that year. Its follow-up 2020 survey mirrored this, finding MSW-holders earned $47,800 on average.
The 2017 report also found differences in median salaries by sector as reported by social workers holding a master’s degree or higher. Some examples include:
- Individual and family services – $45,000
- Outpatient care centers – $50,000
- Administrators of HR programs – $51,000
- Hospitals – $56,000
- Elementary and secondary schools – $60,000
The 2020 NASW survey additionally detailed that 78 percent of social workers reported having a social work license or an MSW was a minimum requirement for their job.
BLS data for 2020 finds the median salary for social workers is $55,484. Although this BLS data doesn’t take education level into account, it has a good correlation to the median salaries reported by the NASW above for MSWs.
2020 BLS total employment and median salaries by social work sector are:
- 328,120 child, family, and school social workers – $48,430
- 176,110 healthcare social workers – $57,630
- 155,800 social and community service managers – $69,600
- 116,780 mental health and substance abuse social workers – $48,720
Doctoral Degree in Social Work (DSW or PhD) Salaries
Currently state licensing requirements don’t mandate a doctoral degree in social work, however most accept one as fulfilling the education requirement. When it comes to salary, social workers with the highest degree in their field tend to earn significantly more.
The NASW’s 2017 profile found social workers with a doctoral degree took in an average salary of $60,412. That’s over $21,000 more than their bachelor’s-only colleagues and over $12,000 more than their master’s-degree colleagues.
In its 2020 national survey the NASW found that 13.2 percent of respondents said they planned to continue their education to the highest level; 4.6 percent said they planned to earn a DSW and 8.6 percent said they planned to earn a PhD in social work.
The 90th-percentile salary figures reported in 2020 by the BLS are lucrative no matter which area of social work you look at. These represent the salaries for the social workers at the highest levels in their fields:
- Child, family, and school social workers – $80,290
- Healthcare social workers – $87,150
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers – $87,420
- Social and community service managers – $115,800
Altogether the general 90th-percentile salary for social workers is $90,479.