Firefighters, Scientists and Doctors Seen as Most Prestigious Occupations

Real estate brokers, Accountants and Stockbrokers are at the bottom of the list

ROCHESTER, N.Y.--()--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 and what ones are not.

These are some of the results of a nationwide telephone survey conducted by Harris Interactive® among 1,010 U.S. adults between July 8 and 13, 2008.

Most Prestigious Occupations

The occupations at the top of the list are:

  • 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.

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.


The Harris Poll® was conducted by telephone within the United States between July 7 and 14, 2009 among a nationwide cross section of 1,010 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race, education, number of adults, number of voice/telephone lines in the household, region and size of place were weighted where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. However, only approximately 500 people were asked about each occupation. Full data tables and methodology are available at

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


The Harris Poll® #86, August 4, 2009
By Regina A. Corso, Director, The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is a global leader in custom market research. With a long and rich history in multimodal research, powered by our science and technology, we assist clients in achieving business results. Harris Interactive serves clients globally through our North American, European and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms. For more information, please visit

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Harris Interactive
Carol Fricke, 585-272-8400


Harris Interactive
Carol Fricke, 585-272-8400