The Prestige

Financial advisers frequently view their role as helping others—but that role appears to be unappreciated, at least relative to other professions.

The most prestigious occupations—at least according to a new Harris Poll measuring perceptions of 23 different occupations—are firefighters, scientists, and teachers. Indeed, while “putting out fires’ and helping educate plan participants are clearly par for the course for most advisers, “stockbrokers’ were among the lowest ranked professions in the survey.

Six occupations were perceived to have “very great’ prestige by at least half of all adults responding to the telephone poll:

  • firefighters (61%)
  • scientists (54%)
  • teachers (54%)
  • doctors (52%)
  • military officers (52%)
  • nurses (50%).

Also in the “very great” category were police officers (46%), priests/ministers/clergy (42%), and farmers (41%).

Teachers Featured

Harris Interactive has been asking about the prestige of different professions and occupations since 1977, and over the ensuing three decades, Harris notes that those who see teachers as having “very great’ prestige has risen 25 points from 29% to 54%. In fact, teachers are the only occupation, among the 11 tracked since 1977, to see a large rise in prestige, according to the report.

In contrast, the list includes10 occupations that are perceived by less than 20 percent of adults to have “very great’ prestige. The lowest ratings for “very great prestige’ go to:

  • real estate brokers (5%)
  • actors (9%)
  • bankers (10%)
  • accountants (11%)
  • entertainers (12%)
  • stockbrokers (12%)
  • union leaders (13%)
  • journalists (13%) (1)
  • business executives (14%)
  • athletes (16%).

Perhaps just as significantly, there were five occupations that are perceived by one-quarter or more of adults to have “hardly any prestige at all,’ including stockbrokers (25%), union leaders (30%), entertainers (31%), real estate brokers (34%), and actors (38%).

Gaining Ground?

As poorly as stockbrokers have fared (and they weren’t included as a category until 2003—not a very propitious time for those associated with the investment markets), at least their prestige seems to be gaining ground (it debuted at an 8, and climbed from 11 in 2006 to 12 this year). Consider that those who say lawyers have “very great’ prestige has fallen14 points, from 36% to 22%. Additionally,

  • scientists have fallen 12 points from 66% to 54%;
  • athletes have fallen 10 points from 26% to 16%;
  • doctors have fallen nine points from 61% to 52%;
  • bankers have fallen seven points from 17% to 10%;
  • entertainers have fallen six points from 18% to 12%.

Now, “stockbroker’ is an admittedly poor proxy for the role of a retirement plan adviser – but then, you probably didn’t become a financial adviser for the “prestige’ anyway.

(1)Note: it hasn’t escaped this journalist’s attention that “journalists’ fared poorly in the “prestige’ category.