Occupational Prestige Does Not Make You Happy

May 25, 2020

Occupational prestige refers to the admiration and respect that a particular occupation holds in a society. It is a way for sociologists to rank the relative social status people have. This post examines whether occupational prestige has a real impact on happiness.

The top five most prestigious occupations in 2010 are presented in Figure 1, below. The most prestigious occupation with a prestige score of 80 is physicians and surgeons. The rest of the top five include engineers, judges, post-secondary teachers, military officers, and architects.

Figure 1.  Top 5 Most Prestigious Occupations in 2010
Prestige Score 2010Occupation
80Physicians and Surgeons
76Nuclear Technicians
75Aerospace Engineers
75Astronomers and Physicists
75Judges, Magistrates, and Other Judicial Workers
75Biomedical Engineers
74Post-Secondary Teachers
73Electrical and Electronics Engineers
73Military Officer, Special and Tactical Operations Leaders
73Architects, Except Naval
73Biological Scientists

Figure 2, below, shows the bottom five least prestigious occupations in 2010. At the bottom of the prestige list, with a score of 16, is parking lot attendants and dining room attendants and bartender helpers. The rest of the list includes food preparation workers, telemarketers, street vendors, etc.

Figure 2.  Bottom 5 Least Prestigious Occupations in 2010
Prestige Score 2010Occupation
21Food Preparation Workers
21 Door-to-door sales workers, news and street
 vendors, and related workers
21Cleaning, washing, and metal pickling
 equipment operators and tenders
21 Combined food preparation and serving
 workers, including fast food
18 Miscellaneous entertainment attendants and
 related workers
18Personal care and service workers, all other
17Entertainers and performers, sports and related
 workers, all other 
17Office and administrative support workers, all
16 Dining room and cafeteria attendants and
 bartender helpers
16Parking lot attendants

To find out whether occupational prestige increases happiness, I rely on the data from the General Social Survey (GSS). I create an indicator variable to measure happiness–I give a person a 1 if he or she is “very happy” or “pretty happy” and I give a person a 0 if he or she is “not too happy.” I then run a logistic regression of the happiness indicator on the prestige score and I find that the odds-ratio is approximately 1.02. This odds-ratio is significant, but very close to 1, which means that there is little-to-no association between happiness and prestige.

I assign a happiness score to occupations to look for the happiest occupations and the least happy occupations. The score is between 0 and 1 and is simply the mean of the happiness indicator for each occupation. There are a lot of occupations that shared the top spot with a happiness score of 1. However, just to spotlight some of the occupations that are most surprising–Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors; Podiatrists; and Gaming managers–all had a happiness score of 1. Among the least happy occupations–those with a happiness score of 0–include: Bridge and Lock Tenders; and Transit and Railroad Police.

This post tries to get at the link between status, or occupational prestige, and happiness. I find that there is a tenuous link between the two. The regression results indicate that there is little-to-no association between happiness and status. Furthermore, it is surprising which occupations show up on the happiest list.

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