Over the past several months, I've watched a lot of Curious George with my 1 year old. I loved Curious George as a kid. I had all the books, and even had a stuffed monkey that I'd cart with me everywhere. It's been fun getting reacquainted with George and the Man with the Yellow Hat again.
Watching episodes on Netflix with Rowan, I've noticed there is a certain ambiguousness about the Man with the Yellow Hat. He is often seen working at the table on some papers, or doing some accounting work, or asking George to put some important envelopes in the mail. He gives speeches at scientific events, is a personal friend of Professor Wiseman, a female scientific genius, and goes on explorations in the Antarctic. He almost went to space once, but because the task required an astronaut with four hands, George had to go instead. The Man lives in an upscale apartment in "the city," drives a yellow convertible, and owns a house in "the country." Obviously whatever the Man does, it makes for a comfortable life!
So what does he do? In the cartoon, we never find out. The secret lies in the older "George canon."
When the series was first created in 1941, the Man with the Yellow Hat was an explorer. He went to Africa and came upon George in the wild. He decided to take George home to "the big city" where George would live in a zoo. Eventually, because George kept escaping the zoo to go on adventures, the Man took George home with him, and they have lived together ever since.
The modern animated cartoon doesn't offer the first meeting of the Man and George, I'm guessing, because it wouldn't go down well in today's social climate to watch a monkey captured and transported out of his habitat. But going back to the original books does at least solve what the Man does for a living. Whenever the Man is seen doing paperwork, he is probably writing grant proposals for future exploration expeditions. He does seem to be connected to the scientific community, and seems to have a lot of knowledge about nature and animal behavior -- not to mention his uncanny ability to understand George all the time.
So there you have it. The Man with the Yellow Hat is likely a fairly well-to-do explorer whose work and life is funded by generous benefactors. Childhood mystery solved.