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America's Most Prestigious Jobs

By Richard Castellini

When your alumni magazine comes in the mail, what's the first thing you read? Most people flip right to the back to the alumni updates section to see what their classmates are up to. Are you impressed when you read about their latest accomplishments and career strides? Would you broadcast your professional status to your fellow alums?

Certainly some job titles carry more cachet than others. But what makes a job prestigious? Is it fame? A six-figure salary? Power?

Firefighters, doctors and nurses should have no problem telling people what they do for a living. At least half of U.S. adults surveyed in 2005 by the Harris Poll say these jobs carry "very great" prestige. Military officers, teachers and police officers are also well-regarded.

Some jobs, however, aren't as revered. The lowest-rated occupations in the survey were stockbrokers, real estate brokers, accountants and journalists. Union leaders, bankers, business executives, actors and lawyers didn't fare much better.

This is a signal that Americans don't necessarily equate high incomes with success. In terms of perceived prestige, important but lower-paying jobs like teachers ($43,000 median salary per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and police officers ($45,000) solidly trumped business executives ($140,000), lawyers ($95,000) and stockbrokers ($69,000) -- jobs typically associated with wealth.

The most prestigious jobs won't usually get you rich, and they're also unlikely to get you famous. While actors, entertainers and musicians may bask in the spotlight, fewer adults consider their jobs as prestigious as, say, a nurse. Instead, the most esteemed jobs involve helping others.

Americans' high regard for these jobs starts early. When the Gallup Youth Survey asked teenagers about their dream jobs in 2005, teacher, doctor, military officer and nurse all earned a spot on the teens' top 10 list.

Fortunately for job seekers, the occupations considered most prestigious are also enjoying strong growth. Nurses are particularly in demand -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that more new jobs will be created for RNs than other occupation, thanks to an aging population that will require more healthcare.

But today's prestigious jobs might not be as popular in the future. In the 28 years that the Harris Poll has conducted their survey, teachers have gained popularity while most other occupations have lost status.

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