What Is Developmental Psychology?

Developmental psychology considers growth and change across the human lifespan, which is especially important to kids and families. Learn about careers in developmental psychology.

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by Ellery Weil

Published September 15, 2022

Reviewed by Tracey Burrell, Ph.D.

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What Is Developmental Psychology?
Image Credit: LWA / DigitalVision / Getty Images

As we grow from children to adults, so do our brains, with the fastest brain growth happening between ages 0-5. With that in mind, it shouldn't be too surprising that one of the branches of psychology, developmental psychology, is dedicated to how humans and our minds grow, develop, and change over time.

While developmental psychology was originally concerned with children and adolescents, the field has expanded to include adult psychology and the psychology of aging. Developmental psychologists work in clinical settings like hospitals as individual and family therapists. They also work in schools and colleges.

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Developmental Psychology Basics: Job Demand and Salary

Developmental psychology is a high-demand field with opportunities for high salaries. Developmental psychologists work in health and educational settings, and some are self-employed.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a psychologist, including those specializing in developmental psychology, is $81,040 per year, nearly double the median salaries of all other professions.

In addition, the projected job growth rate from 2021-2030 is 6%, which is about average for all jobs in the United States. Other developmental psychology jobs, such as family therapy, have higher demand. Family therapist jobs are projected to grow by 14% between 2020 and 2030. But, these professionals only earn a median annual salary of $49,880, slightly higher than the median earnings for all jobs.

Developmental Psychology Careers to Look Forward To

5 Popular Developmental Psychology Jobs

Counselor/Therapist

Median Salary: $81,040
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 8%

When you think of "seeing a psychologist," you are likely thinking of a therapist or counselor. Therapists and counselors work one-on-one with individuals to help them deal with mental health concerns, major life events, and more. Counselors and therapists typically need a master's degree or higher and must be licensed to practice in their state.


School Psychologist

Average Median Salary: $60,510
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 10%

A school psychologist is on-site at a high school or other educational institution to serve as a resource for students' mental health needs. A background in developmental psychology is especially useful for working with teenagers and school-age children. School psychologists typically need a master's degree and licensure in their state.


Family Therapist

Median Salary: $49,880
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 14%

While a traditional therapist works with individuals one-on-one, a family therapist works with a family and helps them improve their dynamics and relationship as a unit. Family therapists who need postgraduate education and licensing may also work with couples to help them improve their relationships.


Social Worker

Median Salary: $50,390
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 9%

While not technically a field in developmental psychology, social work may require knowledge of the human mind and stages of development. Social workers, who typically need a master's in social work and license, help clients cope with difficult personal circumstances.


Childcare Center Director

Median Salary: $47,310
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 8%

A background in developmental psychology can be extremely useful for childcare center directors. These professionals work with children at stages where their thoughts and perceptions grow and change rapidly. Childcare center directors often need a bachelor's degree and experience working with young children.

Learn How to Become a Developmental Psychologist Before You Commit

Most developmental psychology positions require a degree, whether a bachelor's degree, a master's, or even a doctorate in psychology. Taking some introductory psychology courses in high school or college may be a good idea before committing to a psychology major. If you already have a psychology degree, research different postgraduate programs before applying for a master's in psychology or doctorate.

Once you have completed your education in developmental psychology or a related field, many jobs, such as therapists or social workers, require licensure. Licensing requirements vary between states but will often involve a number of supervised hours in the field and passing an exam. Be sure to renew your license according to your state's requirements. If you move states, you may need to obtain a licensure in that state or transfer it if you can.

How Long Does It Actually Take to Get Into Developmental Psychology?

It can take a lot of time to begin a developmental psychology career. Between a four-year bachelor's degree program and a one-or-two year master's, plus licensure, it can take 5-6 years to become a developmental psychologist.

Networking in college and after graduation can give you an idea of how to get into the field and how long it will take.

The Future of Developmental Psychology

Trend #1: Developmental Psychology Beyond Adolescence

While developmental psychology has historically focused on children and adolescents, it is increasingly applied to adults. This is especially relevant as the older population in the U.S. increases. People's mental health needs as they age will need to be addressed.

Trend #2: Cross-Cultural Developmental Psychology

With the world becoming more interconnected, developmental psychologists need to be aware of different clients' cultural experiences. This can be especially true for those working in educational settings, such as a psychologist on a college campus with a high number of international students.

Trend #3: Remote and Telehealth Psychology Services

The COVID-19 pandemic and better video conferencing technology helped make remote healthcare services and telehealth more popular, including psychology. Psychologists who offer telehealth therapy sessions with individuals or families can expand their client base and make it easier for more people to access therapy.

Trend #4: Post-Pandemic Developmental Psychology

The pandemic led to delays in childhood development, according to the CDC's report. This means that developmental psychologists will need to address a generation's challenges coming of age in the aftermath of the pandemic and beyond.

Is Developmental Psychology Right For Me?

Choosing to pursue a career in developmental psychology is a major life decision. If you are interested in a career in psychology and are especially interested in working with children, families, or in education, developmental psychology may be the right field for you.

Before you commit to a career, though, consider trying an internship or entry-level summer job. You can look for these jobs and internships at hospitals, childcare centers, nursing facilities, and more. You should also take a variety of psychology classes to ensure developmental psychology is the branch for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Developmental Psychology

What are the highest paying jobs in developmental psychology?

How much you can make in a job in developmental psychology will vary a significant amount based on a variety of factors. These can include not only the type of job, but also your level of experience, location, and more.

In general, counselors and therapists who work one-on-one can be especially well-paid, with the average psychologist in the United States making $81,040 per year, according to BLS. However, your salary as a psychologist or any other developmental psychology career will likely depend on your location and may also change over the course of your career, with more experienced professionals being more likely to earn more.

What is the difference between developmental psychology and personality psychology?

Developmental psychology studies how human thought, behavior, and thought patterns change over time, from infancy to childhood and adolescence and beyond into adulthood and aging.

Personality psychology differs from developmental psychology in that personality psychology is the study of how our personality and views of ourselves form, but with no focus on growth, age, and life stages.

While there may be some overlap between developmental psychology and personality psychology, such as when studying how teenagers form self-esteem and a sense of self outside their families, the two fields are fundamentally different.

Is developmental psychology a good career?

Whether or not working in developmental psychology would be a good career fit for you is a personal question, and the answer will depend on various factors. Suppose you are interested in psychology generally and want to work with children and families, especially in a school or other educational setting. In that case, you may consider a career in developmental psychology.

What can I do with a psychology degree?

There are a wide variety of different jobs and industries you can work in with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Some jobs, such as a psychologist or social worker, will require you to go to graduate school for a master's, doctorate, or professional degree before you can begin working.

Other jobs, like market research or business, will likely not necessarily require any further education beyond a bachelor's degree. Although you will likely learn a lot on the job and as you advance in your career. Which psychology jobs are right for you will depend on your circumstances and interests.

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