Doctors, Military Officers, Firefighters, and Scientists Seen as Among America's Most Prestigious Occupations

Yet engineering is what the highest percentage of adults would encourage a child to pursue

Sep 10, 2014, 05:00 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Sept. 10, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- When shown a list of occupations and asked how much prestige each job possesses, doctors top the Harris Poll's list, with 88% of U.S. adults considering it to have either "a great deal of prestige" (45%) or to "have prestige"(44%). 

After doctors, the rest of the top ten occupations seen as prestigious include military officers (78%), firefighters (76%), scientists (76%), nurses (70%), engineers (69%), police officers (66%), priests/ministers/clergy (62%), architects (62%), and athletes (60%). 

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,537 adults surveyed online between August 13 and 18, 2014. (Full results, including data tables and full list of occupations, available here)

Meanwhile, there are five occupations Americans are somewhat divided on:

  • Member of Congress: 52% more prestigious vs. 48% less prestigious
  • Entertainer: 53% more prestigious vs. 47% less prestigious
  • Actors: 55% more prestigious vs. 45% less prestigious
  • Farmer: 45% more prestigious vs. 55% less prestigious
  • Journalist: 45% more prestigious vs. 55% less prestigious

Real estate broker/agent is the profession with the highest percentage of adults considering it to have less prestige (73%), with 50% feeling it does not have that much prestige and 24% believing it has no prestige at all. The other occupations majorities of Americans consider either to have not that much prestige or to be not prestigious at all are union leaders (65%), stockbrokers & bankers (62%), and accountants (60%).

When broken down by generations, it seems as though younger adults are more inclined to place a high value on fame as it relates to an occupation's prestige.

  • While strong majorities of Millennials (18-37) and members of Generation X (38-49) believe it is prestigious to be an athlete (66% and 63%, respectively), Baby Boomers (50-68) and Matures (69+) are less convinced (56% and 52% respectively). 
  • When it comes to actors and entertainers, the results are similar: 62% of Millennials, 60% of Gen Xers, and 52% of Baby Boomers believe actor is a prestigious occupation; and 57% of Millennials, 59% of Gen Xers, and 51% of Baby Boomers feel being an entertainer is prestigious. Meanwhile, only 36% of Matures believe that a being either an actor or entertainer is a prestigious occupation.

Professions Americans would encourage a child to consider pursuing

Interestingly, when asked if they would encourage a child to pursue these same occupations as a future profession, the push to become a doctor (91%) loses by a small margin to encouragement to become an engineer (93%) and ties with the support given to becoming a scientist (91%); nursing (90%) and architecture (88%) also come close behind. Strong majorities would also encourage children to become teachers (81%), accountants (78%), firefighters (77%), business executives (74%), lawyers (69%), and military officers (65%). 

Americans are more split on whether children should be encouraged to become real estate brokers/agents (52% would encourage, 48% would not) and stockbrokers (46% would encourage, 54% would not). Meanwhile, the four occupations which majorities of Americans would discourage a child from pursuing are union leader (66%), actor (59%), member of Congress (59%), and entertainer (58%).

Consistent with industries' perceived prestige, Millennials are significantly more likely than older generations of adults to encourage children to pursue careers in the limelight:

  • Athlete (65% Millennials vs. 56% Gen Xers, 53% Baby Boomers, 49% Matures)
  • Entertainer (53% Millennials, 43%  Gen Xers, 37% Baby Boomers vs. 25% Matures)
  • Actor (55% Millennials, 42% Gen Xers, 36% Baby Boomers vs. 19% Matures)

While Millennials appear more likely to encourage children towards stardom, Matures seem to be more likely to encourage children to pursue other roles: 

  • Priest/Minister/Clergy (56% Millennials, 50% Gen Xers, 58% Baby Boomers vs. 68% Matures)
  • Military officer (60% Millennials, 61% Gen Xers, 67% Baby Boomers vs. 79% Matures)

Popular, though less prestigious, pursuits

When looking at the results of this survey, there is a distinct gap between how prestigious adults consider many professions to be and whether they would encourage a child to pursue them. The largest percentage point difference between perceived prestige and likelihood to recommend – 38 points – exists between the 40% of Americans who consider accounting prestigious and the 78% who would encourage a child to become an accountant.

The other top "gaps" between prestige and recommendations exist for the following professions:

  • Architect: 26-point gap (62% prestige vs. 88% would encourage)
  • Real estate broker/agent: 25-point gap (27% prestige vs. 52% would encourage)
  • Engineer: 24-point gap (69% prestige vs. 93% would encourage)
  • Teacher: 21-point gap (60% prestige vs. 81% would encourage)
  • Banker: 21-point gap (38% prestige vs. 59% would encourage)
  • Nurse: 20-point gap (70% prestige vs. 90% would encourage)

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between August 13 and 18, 2014 among 2,537 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #85, September 10, 2014
By Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst

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SOURCE The Harris Poll