November 22, 2023 | Allison Robertson

Occupational Prestige: Exploring the Most and Least Respected Jobs

Exploring the Most and Least Respected Jobs

Judge and cashier split image

Occupations carry varying degrees of prestige, often influenced by factors like societal impact, educational requirements, income, and historical perceptions. 

In this article, we explore a range of professions, starting with those considered the most prestigious, and moving towards those typically viewed as less prestigious

It’s important to remember, however, that all jobs play essential roles in our society and economy.

The Most Prestigious Occupations

Tales From Jury DutyShutterstock

In terms of occupation, 'prestigious' typically refers to jobs that command high respect and admiration in society. This prestige is often based on factors such as the level of education required, salary, societal impact, and historical significance.

For example, doctors, with a median annual wage over $208,000 as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are often seen as prestigious due to their extensive training and critical role in healthcare.

Professions like engineers and pilots are also highly regarded for their specialized skills and societal contribution.

Statistical insights, like those from Harris Poll's surveys, often reflect these perceptions, consistently ranking professions like doctors and scientists at the top, underscoring the value placed on their expertise and impact.

The following six occupations are typically viewed as the most prestigious.


Charming female doctor giving advice to a female patientBranislav Nenin, Shutterstock

Salary: $208,000+ per year

Doctors are often at the top of the list when it comes to prestigious jobs. This high regard stems from their significant role in health care, extensive educational requirements, and the life-saving nature of their work.

Being a doctor involves years of rigorous education and training, and their job directly impacts people's lives and well-being, which contributes to the profession’s high status.

Judges and Lawyers

Lawyers in office are looking at documents and talking.August de Richelieu, Pexels

Salary for Judges: $136,910 per year Salary for Lawyers: $122,960 per year

The legal profession, encompassing judges and lawyers, is traditionally seen as prestigious. The high salary, the role in upholding justice, and the rigorous educational path (including law school and bar examinations) contribute to its esteemed status.

Lawyers and judges are instrumental in interpreting and applying the law, a responsibility that places them at a high level of respect and influence in society.

University Professors

Dumbest thing saidPexels

Salary: $80,790 per year

University professors hold a place of prestige due to their role in education and research. The requirement of advanced degrees, often including a Ph.D., and their contribution to knowledge and societal development through teaching and research, make this a highly respected profession.


Holiday Songs FactsWikimedia Commons

Salary: $66,000 - $161,141 per year

Astronauts are revered not only for the highly specialized and dangerous nature of their work but also for the awe and fascination surrounding space exploration.

Their role requires extensive training, exceptional skills, and the courage to undertake missions that expand human understanding of space.


Pilots inside a cabinESB Professional, Shutterstock

Salary: $130,440 per year

Pilots hold a prestigious position in society, largely due to the high level of skill, training, and responsibility associated with their job. Flying commercial aircraft requires rigorous training and a steady hand, as they are responsible for the safety of hundreds of passengers.

This, combined with the allure of travel and the relatively high salary, contributes to the profession's esteemed status.


Group of engineers are working on laptop in workshop.ThisIsEngineering, Pexels

Salary: $83,160 per year (varies by specialty)

Engineers, whether they specialize in civil, mechanical, electrical, or other areas, are highly respected. Their role in designing, developing, and maintaining various structures, machines, and systems is crucial for societal development.

The combination of high skill level, significant educational requirements, and the innovative nature of the work lends this profession substantial prestige.

Least Prestigious Occupations

Restaurant worker is standing at restaurant table and looking at camera.pressfoto, Freepik

An occupation is often viewed as less prestigious typically due to factors like lower educational requirements, minimal skill specialization, lower wages, and limited societal impact or visibility.

Jobs often earning near minimum wage - with the federal minimum wage in the U.S. at $7.25 per hour - fall into this category.

They are essential for daily operations in society but are frequently undervalued due to the routine nature of the work and the lack of professional advancement opportunities.

These perceptions are reflected in public opinion surveys and labor statistics, which often place such roles at the lower end of the prestige spectrum.

The following six occupations are typically viewed as the least prestigious.

Fast Food Workers

customer in brown top ordering food at the counterSorbis, Shutterstock

Salary: $22,030 per year

Fast food workers are often viewed less prestigiously, largely due to the low pay, minimal education requirements, and the repetitive nature of the job.

Despite the essential role they play in the food service industry, societal perceptions often undervalue these positions.

Janitors and Cleaners

Kurt Cobain FactsShutterstock

Salary: $27,430 per year

Janitorial work is typically seen as less prestigious, mostly due to the low wages and the nature of the work, which involves cleaning and maintaining properties.

However, their role is vital in maintaining hygiene and cleanliness in public and private spaces.


Worst Job InterviewsShutterstock

Salary: $31,720 per year

The job of a telemarketer often ranks low in terms of prestige. This perception is influenced by the often repetitive, sales-focused nature of the work, along with the general public's annoyance with telemarketing calls.

Despite this, telemarketing remains an important part of many business' operations.

Garbage Collectors

Lazy People factsShutterstock

Salary: $37,840 per year

Despite providing an essential public service, garbage collectors are often seen at the lower end of the occupational prestige spectrum. The job's low status is often linked to the nature of the work, which involves handling waste, even though it is essential for maintaining public health and cleanliness.

Parking Lot Attendants

Craziest employeeShutterstock

Salary: $25,030 per year

Often overlooked, the job of a parking lot attendant is seen as one of the least prestigious occupations. This perception stems from the job's routine nature, limited skill requirements, and low income.

Despite this, they play a key role in managing vehicle safety and assisting patrons in parking facilities.

Retail Cashiers

Portrait of beautiful smiling African American cashier working at a grocery store.hedgehog94, Shutterstock

Salary: $23,650 per year

Retail cashiers, while essential in the consumer economy, often find their job ranked low on the prestige scale. The reasons include the repetitive nature of the job, minimal educational requirements, and low wages.

Nevertheless, cashiers are integral in the day-to-day operations of retail businesses, ensuring smooth transactions and customer service.

Final Thoughts

Man taking money out of a walletKarolina Grabowska, Pexels

While societal perceptions often dictate the prestige associated with various occupations, it's crucial to recognize the inherent value and contribution of every job.

From doctors to garbage collectors, each profession plays a unique role in the functioning and betterment of society.

Prestige is just one lens through which to view occupations, and often, it doesn’t capture the full picture of an individual’s job satisfaction, impact, and personal fulfillment.



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