With all due respect, survey puts physicians at the top

October 30, 1991|By National Opinion Research Center at the University of ChicagoChicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- A study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago shows that the worker with the highest social status, the one most respected, is not a rock and roll star or a Hollywood celebrity but a physician-surgeon.

The nationwide survey of 1,166 adults rated the status of 740 occupational titles. And medical doctors were the winners. Doctors, in fact, pushed college presidents, ranked No. 1 in 1964 when the survey was first conducted, into second place.

The high social status accorded physicians isn't surprising to Tom W. Smith, historian and director of the general social survey of the Research Center. He was co-principal investigator for the study with James A. Davis, professor of sociology at Harvard University.

"The characteristics of top status ranking are a high level of education and training, a well-paid job and respectability," Mr. Smith said. "At the other end of the scale, occupations with the lowest status are characterized by minimum wage or low pay, are dead end, menial and unskilled. Some are illegal."

The purpose of the survey, Mr. Smith said, "is to measure social consistency and social change and to develop models to explain why society has changed and why it has not."

Another change from 1964 is that dentists have dropped off the top 12 list and have been replaced by computer scientists.

The occupation with the lowest prestige is panhandler. In 1964, shoe shiners were at rock bottom, followed by street sweepers, hat check "girls," office cleaners, hotel chambermaids, migrant workers, soda "jerks," cleaning women, bell "boys," and mule team drivers.

"The ratings are very telling about the values of society," said Judith Treas, professor and head of the Department of Sociology at the University of California at Irvine. "People respect science -- and physicians are strongly identified with it."

From surgeons to panhandlers

A nationwide survey of 1,166 adults rated the status of 740 occupational titles.

?5Top 10.. .. .. .. .. Middle 10.. .. .. .. Bottom 10

Surgeon. .. .. .. .. Apartment manager .. .. Panhandler

Physician.. .. .. .. Factory car tester.. .. Fortune teller

College president .. Evangelist. .. .. .. .. Drug dealer

Astronaut.. .. .. .. Restaurant critic .. .. Prostitute

Obstetrician.. .. .. Timber buyer.. .. .. .. Envelope stuffer

Math professor .. .. Data entry clerk. .. .. Dishwasher

Govt. dept. head. .. Park supt.. .. .. .. .. Shoe shiner

City mayor. .. .. .. Travel agent.. .. .. .. Orange grove picker

Physics professor .. Telephone pole climber. Grocery bagger

Lawyer.. .. .. .. .. Fast-food store mgr. .. Street sweeper

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