Most Prestigious Jobs

Posted on 17 November 2009

Scientists and Doctors
Are Tops, Say Americans

Want a job that will wow them at parties? Then study the sciences.

That’s the message from the Harris Poll’s annual survey of attitudes toward a cross section of occupations. Of 1,011 adults surveyed nationwide, 51% said scientist was a job with “very great prestige.” Doctors were right behind with 50%, followed by military officers and teachers, each with 47%, and police officers, with 40%.

Of that top five, though, only the uniformed professions saw gains from the prior year. Military officers rose seven percentage points, while police climbed three points, moves that Harris attributed to the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan.

Scientists fell two points from last year, while doctors dropped 11 percentage points. Teachers saw esteem for their positions fall seven percentage points, Harris said.

Amid the corporate accounting scandals, at the bottom of this year’s list were accountants. Only 13% of those surveyed said they felt the profession carried “very great prestige,” down two percentage points.

Here are more highlights from the latest survey.

* * *

“For each of the following, would you tell me if you feel it is an occupation of very great prestige, considerable prestige, some prestige or hardly any prestige at all?”

Base: All Adults Very Great Prestige Considerable Prestige Some Prestige Hardly Any Prestige At All Not Sure/ Refused
Scientist 51% 25% 20% 2% 3%
Doctor 50 30 17 1 2
Military Officer 47 27 21 3 2
Teacher 47 23 20 7 2
Police Officer** 40 32 20 7 1
Priest/Minister/Clergyman 36 25 24 11 3
Engineer 34 32 28 4 2
Architect 27 34 31 4 4
Member of Congress 27 30 29 11 3
Athlete 21 24 37 15 3
Entertainer 19 29 34 15 3
Journalist 19 25 41 12 4
Business Executive** 18 29 36 13 4
Lawyer 15 25 38 20 2
Banker 15 29 44 10 2
Union Leader 14 22 37 23 5
Accountant 13 23 42 17 4

** In earlier surveys Harris used the words “policeman” (now changed to “police officer”) and businessman (now changed to “business executive”) which may account for the changes from 2001 to 2002.

* * *

Trend for “very great prestige” from 1977 to 2002

Base: All Adults 1977 1982 1992 1997 1998 2000 2001 2002 Changes since 2001 Changes since 1977
Scientist 66% 59% 57% 51% 55% 56% 53% 51% -2% -15%
Doctor 61 55 50 52 61 61 61 50 -11 -11
Military officer NA 22 32 29 34 42 40 47 +7 NA
Teacher 29 28 41 49 53 53 54 47 -7 +18
Police Officer ** NA NA 34 36 41 38 37 40 +3 NA
Priest/Minister/Clergyman** 41 42 38 45 46 45 43 36 -7 -5
Engineer 34 30 37 32 34 32 36 34 -2 -
Architect NA NA NA NA 26 26 28 27 -1 NA
Member of Congress NA NA 24 23 25 33 24 27 +3 NA
Athlete 26 20 18 21 20 21 22 21 -1 -5
Entertainer 18 16 17 18 19 21 20 19 -1 +1
Journalist 17 16 15 15 15 16 18 19 +1 +2
Business Executive ** 18 16 19 16 18 15 12 18 +6 -
Lawyer 36 30 25 19 23 21 18 15 -3 -21
Banker 17 17 17 15 18 15 16 15 -1 -2
Union leader NA NA 12 14 16 16 17 14 -3 NA
Accountant NA 13 14 18 17 14 15 13 -2 NA

NA not asked

** Questions contain reference to “man” in these profession titles reflecting how they were originally asked. They remain the same in order not to disrupt the trending of the data related to these professions.

* * *

Methodology: This poll was conducted via telephone between Aug. 15 and 19, among a nationwide cross section of 1,011 adults. Figures for age, sex, race, education, number of adults and number of voice/telephone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to align with population proportions. Harris Interactive estimates the results have a statistical precision of plus or minus three percentage points compared to results if the entire adult population had been polled with complete accuracy.

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