Business Trends

Most Prestigious Occupations in America

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Every year at this time, The Harris Poll asks whether an occupation can be considered to have very great prestige or hardly any prestige at all. This year there are some changes as well as some stability in what occupations are considered ‘prestigious’.

The survey was conducted between July 8 and 13, 2008, among 1,010 U.S. adults. 

The occupations at the top of the prestige list:

•Firefighter (62% say “very great prestige”),
•Scientist (57%),
•Doctor (56%),
•Nurse (54%),
•Teacher (51%), and
•Military officer (51%).

Least Prestigious Occupations:

Looking at the other side of the list, only 15% or fewer adults regard the following occupations as having very great prestige:

•Real estate agent/broker (5%),
•Accountant (11%),
•Stock broker (13%),
•Actor (15%).

Substantial majorities of adults (from 65% to 80%) believe that these occupations have “hardly any” or only “some” prestige.

Additionally, several occupations are 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%.

However, even with this improvement, business executives are still near the bottom of the list with 62% of Americans saying they have only some prestige or hardly any prestige at all.

Interestingly, the most recent Executive Quiz results conducted by The Korn/Ferry Institute reveal that nearly half (47 percent) of employed executives are either somewhat or very dissatisfied with their current position. The lackluster job market has not only left executives unhappy with their jobs, but survey results also uncover a lack of trust for corporate leadership.

When asked what best describes employee morale within their company, 45 percent of employed executives said either “fair” or “poor,” followed by 42 percent who said “good” and only 13 percent who said “outstanding.”
“The global recession has left fewer employees to do more work, often for less pay. Stress levels are high and some executives are getting burnt out. However, irrespective of the business cyclicality, companies must take proactive steps to keep key employees engaged if they want to retain them for the long term and be seen as an employer of choice.”

Two occupations lost four or more points since last year:

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

Biggest Changes over Last 30 Years

The Harris Poll first asked this question, but with a shorter list of occupations, in 1977. The biggest change since then has been a 22 point increase from 29% to 51% in those who believe teachers have very great prestige.

Two occupations have lost substantial ground since 1977: scientists, down 9 points to 57% and lawyers, down 10 points to 26%. In addition, two have remained unchanged – priests/ministers/clergy at 41% and journalists at 17%. Also, two have remained very stable – entertainers, down 1 point to 17%; and bankers, down 1 point to 16%.

So What?

While some of the numbers may fluctuate from year to year, one thing remains constant, especially in the past two decades. The professions that are at the top of the list and considered to have very great prestige are ones that are not considered to be high-paying jobs – firefighters, nurses and teachers. The ones at the bottom are ones that may have a lot of fame attached to them – athletes, actors, entertainers – or are ones that have the potential to earn large salaries – business executives, stockbrokers, real estate agents. People do not equate money and fame with prestige. These are two completely separate concepts to the American public.

Most Accountants Loyal To Their Companies

The accounting profession, when compared to the rest of the U.S. job market, has held up well in terms of job losses, shedding less than 2% of jobs since June 2008. Perhaps as a result, accountants are loyal to their employers with 57% saying they plan to stay with their companies once the economy improves, according to a new survey by Ajilon Finance, a leading specialty finance and accounting recruitment firm, in conjunction with the Institute of Management Accountants’ Inside Talk Webinar Series.

In contrast, a smaller but still significant number of accountants – more than one-fifth (23%) of the 458 accountants surveyed – say they plan to look for new jobs when the economy rebounds, according to the survey. Impressively, however, when asked where they see themselves in five years, 44% of accountants anticipate serving in a more senior role at their current company with a much smaller 25% saying they see themselves at another company in five years.

“Despite the deterioration of the overall job market over the past year, accountants are still in great demand nationwide,” said Jodi Chavez, senior vice president of Ajilon Finance. “That said there is still a strong core of highly-skilled accounting professionals available for hire. Companies which are gearing up for the transition to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the implementation of XBRL-tagged financial statements or even just for the coming tax season should take the opportunity now to snap up top accounting talent while it is available.”


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