Social science is the study of people: as individuals, communities and societies; their behaviours and interactions with each other and with their built, technological and natural environments. Social science seeks to understand the evolving human systems across our increasingly complex world and how our planet can be more sustainably managed. It’s vital to our shared future.

Social science includes many different areas of study, such as how people they organise and govern themselves, and broker power and international relations; how wealth is generated, economies develop, and economic futures are modelled;  how business works and what a sustainable future means; the ways in which populations are changing, and issues of unemployment, deprivation and inequality; and how these social, cultural and economic dynamics vary in different places, with different outcomes.

Did you know…

UK social sciences are ranked among the best in the world for their research.
  • Popular A Levels

    Of the 12 most popular A level subjects, five are social sciences: business studies; economics; geography; psychology; sociology.

  • In demand

    Around 40% (>230,000) of new undergrad students chose to study social science subjects at UK universities in 2020-2021. Social sciences are in demand.

  • Well paid

    Social science graduates are well paid. Many earn as much as STEM graduates.

  • Vital to business

    Social science knowledge and skills from leadership and strategic planning to international liaison, sustainability, consumer growth, marketing, legal and financial management are vital to business.

  • Relevant

    In a recent survey, two thirds of the research questions the UK government sought answers to centred on social science.

  • Inspiring

    Social science helps us make sense of our changing human world, inspiring us to be culturally sensitive, environmentally aware and socially responsible citizens.

Social Science Disciplines

Social science comprises 16 major disciplines and many sub-disciplines and specialisms. Find out about each and how they help us understand our contemporary human world.

  • Anthropology is the study, generally using ethnographic methods, of how different groups of people create and give meaning to their social world – ‘society’ – and how that social world places constraints on their behaviour and relationships. It is interested in what societies have in common, what differentiates them and how they change.

  • This is an interdisciplinary field including accounting, EDI, ethics, finance, HR, information systems, leadership, marketing, operations, organisational behaviour and strategy. It includes qualitative and quantitative analyses of individuals, organisations, systems, change and the role of organisations and management in society, environment and economy.

  • Demography is the study of human populations. Demographers and social statisticians use social statistics and demographic methods to analyse the influences on population structures and dynamics, such as population growth, fertility, mortality, ageing and migration patterns. The discipline supports social policy-making at all scales that requires sound demographic analysis for decision-making.

  • Development Studies investigates global, national and local processes of change, including social, economic, political, cultural, environmental and technological. It focuses largely on contexts characterised by poverty, inequalities, environmental vulnerability and socio-political conflict and involves the critical interrogation of development theories, structures, processes, policies and practices from multiple disciplinary perspectives.

  • Human beings interact with the physical world and each other to produce artefacts and services that support and enhance their lives – offering usefulness and pleasure. Economics is the study of the principles, laws and dynamics that drive these economic processes; about how such wealth is created and subsequently distributed.

  • Education is the study of learning, teaching and human development. A well-established discipline in universities, it also has strong multi-disciplinary links for example with sociology, psychology, and philosophy. The study of education in society, including the practice and policy of early years settings, schools, colleges and teacher education, is an important aspect.

  • People, places and environments are central to our lives. Geographers explore the interactions between them, globally and locally. Analysing and understanding the dynamics of cultures, societies and economies, how they vary between places, and why differences and inequalities exist, inform some of the big issues facing society today.

  • International Relations focuses on interactions of states and non-state actors through the tools of diplomacy, trade, and violence. Pressing questions including climate change and migration are analysed at local and global levels. Attention is paid to how gender, race, and sexuality are affected by and shape responses to these challenges.

  • Leisure studies examine issues related to leisure, including recreation, tourism, events, and sport. It includes studies of individuals and the relationship between leisure and wider society.  It draws on scholars with backgrounds in many different social science disciplines, including economics, sociology, geography, psychology, planning, sports science, and recreation management.

  • Language is central to social interaction. Linguistics, and applied linguistics in particular, offers insights, often based on millions of words of data, into questions such as how language is used to inform, persuade and mislead – e.g. in business, healthcare and security contexts -and how we learn an additional language.

  • Space and place matter to us all. Planning is about creating efficient and equitable places.  It is about helping to make communities that are socially inclusive, economically competitive and environmentally sustainable.  Planners are at the heart of efforts to address the climate emergency, reduce regional inequalities and overcome housing shortages.

  • From democracy to dictatorship and local councils to international organisations, the study of politics examines how power is obtained, kept, lost, mobilised, divided, used and abused. It asks who gains and who loses from these processes, and why. Politics is studied in theory and practice, sometimes using scientific methods.

  • Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and how it influences our behaviour, from communication and memory to thought and emotion.  It is both an academic discipline and a vital clinical practice, examining human behaviour, thoughts and feelings through observation, measurement, and testing.

  • Regional Studies is interdisciplinary and concerns with the analysis of sub-national regions and regional issues. It investigates how and why regions and cities develop. It seeks to understand how economic and political processes are influenced by regional and local circumstances and vice versa.

  • The study of society, and the ways that social life is organised, structured, and experienced. Focusing on big issues such as inequality, poverty, crime, racism and climate change, and exploring how we make sense of, navigate and change our interpersonal and everyday lives, sociology combines the study of self and society.

  • Statistics underpin many other disciplines. They help us understand and quantify what is happening in society and the economy, and provide the methods and tools to help researchers of all kinds collect, analyse and interpret data.

Careers in Social Science

A wide range of well-paid and socially responsible careers are open to social science students. Some roles use skills and approaches learned in all social science disciplines. Other roles are more specific to individual subjects.

The We Society Podcast

Tackling the big questions through a social science lens, the We Society Podcast brings you some of the best ideas to shape the way we live.

Join acclaimed journalist and Academy president Will Hutton, as he invites guests from the world of social science to explore the stories behind the news and hear their solutions to society’s most pressing problems.

Making a Difference

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Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion matter to those who teach, learn and work in social science. Explore research into these issues and find out how some subjects are addressing EDI within their own communities.

I’m a Social Scientist

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Jonathan Breckon FAcSS

Jonathan is an independent researcher who mobilises social science research for smarter decision-making in government, NGOs, and professional bodies.