Most Prestigious Occupations: Firefighter, Scientist Top List

August 6, 2009

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Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Media & Entertainment

The occupations of firefighter and scientist have the most prestige among Americans this year, while real-estate brokers, accountants and stockbrokers are regarded poorly and score at the bottom of the list, according to a survey by Harris Interactive.

Most Prestigious Occupations

The annual poll, which asked Americans whether they think particular occupations from a list of 23 have very great prestige or hardly any prestige at all, found that 62% of Americans say the occupation of firefighter has “very great prestige.” Similarly, scientist (57%), doctor (56%), nurse (54%), teacher (51%) and military officer (51%) all scored well.


Least Prestigious Occupations

At the other end of the spectrum, the fewest number of Americans say that the occupation of real-estate agent/broker (5%) has “very great prestige.” Also at the bottom of the list: accountant (11%), stockbroker (13%) and actor (15%).

In fact, the poll found that substantial majorities of adults (ranging from 65% to 80%) believe these occupations have “hardly any” or only “some” prestige.

Movers and Shakers

Several occupations have moved up in the rankings and are now regarded as “very prestigious” by more people this year than they were last year:

  • Business executive, up six points to 23%,
  • Military office, up five points to 51%, and
  • Firefighter, up five points to 62%.

Despite the fact that business executives have moved up, they are still near the bottom of the list with 62% of Americans saying they have only some prestige or hardly any prestige at all, Harris noted.

Two occupations lost four or more points since last year:

  • Farmers, down five points to 36%,
  • Accountant, down four points to 11%.

Teachers Make Biggest 30-Year Gain

The biggest change since Harris first asked this question in 1977 has been a 22-point increase (from 29% to 51%) in those who believe teachers have very great prestige.

Alternatively, two occupations have lost substantial ground since 1977: scientists, down 9 points to 57%, and lawyers, down 10 points to 26%. Additionally, two occupations have remained unchanged: Priests/ministers/clergy at 41%, and journalists at 17%. At the same time, two have remained very stable: entertainers, down 1 point to 17%; and bankers, down 1 point to 16%.

Harris Interactive noted that while some occupations’ rankings may fluctuate from year to year, the professions that are at the top of the list – such as firefighters, nurses and teachers – are not considered to be especially high-paying. On the other hand, jobs at the bottom often are associated with fame and high salaries – athletes, entertainers, business executives, stockbrokers, real-estate agents. This, Harris said, suggests that the American public does not equate money and fame with prestige.

About the survey: Survey findings are the result of a nationwide telephone survey conducted by Harris Interactive among 1,010 U.S. adults (ages 18+) between July 8-13, 2008.

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