More than Money?

You may put out a lot of fires every day, but odds are the public doesn’t appreciate it.

Instead – and once again (see The Prestige) – the annual Harris Poll measuring public perceptions of 23 professions and occupations found that the most prestigious profession is “firefighter’, with more than half (57%) saying that that position has “very great prestige.’

Come to think of it, most financial advisers probably feel that your day-to-day focus contains many elements of the top five prestigious professions, which also include “scientist’ (56% say very great prestige), doctor (53% – though this is down 6% from last year), nurse (52%) and teacher (also 52%). In fact, when the numbers for “very great” and “considerable prestige” are added, all of these occupations are very favorably regarded by 74% or more of all adults.

On the other hand, when you look at the professions seen as having “hardly any’ or only “some’ prestige, the public once again put stock broker and banker in the bottom five, with just 10% saying that the former has great prestige, and 15% the latter. Despite the recent turmoil in the financial markets, bankers improved considerably from last year – when the profession registered 10%.

Bankers weren’t the only profession to enjoy a significant gains. Compared with a year ago, engineers, were up ten points to 40%, actors were up seven points to 16%, architects were now cited by 28% (up 5 points), and union leaders also shot up to 18%, a gain of five points.

Oh – and did I mention that journalists also shot up five points – to 18%!

Congressional Aid?

In case you were wondering, 28% said members of Congress rated very high prestige, up 2 points from a year ago, despite their slumping poll numbers, while business executives were cited as very prestigious by a mere 17%, though that was up 3 points from last year’s survey).

The Harris Poll first asked this question, but with a shorter list of occupations, in 1977. The biggest change since then has been a 23 point increase (from 29% to 52%) in those who believe teachers have very great prestige.

Three occupations have lost substantial ground since 1977, according to Harris:

Scientist, down ten points to 56%
Doctor, down 15 points to 53%
Lawyer, down 12 points to 24%

Harris notes that while many Americas are celebrity obsessed, they clearly do not hold those occupations in high regard, with actors and entertainers occupying two of the bottom six positions in the list of prestigious occupations.

Harris also noted that some of the occupations that are widely seen as prestigious (specifically firefighters, teachers, nurses and police officers) are not particularly highly paid, while some of the least prestigious occupations tend to be very highly paid (actors, bankers, entertainers and stockbrokers).

Prestige is clearly not just a question of money or celebrity.

This year’s survey was conducted by telephone between July 8 and 13, 2008, by Harris Interactive among a nationwide sample of 1,010 U.S. adults.