Survey Reveals Most Satisfying Jobs

Firefighters, the clergy and others with professional jobs that involve helping or serving people are more satisfied with their work and overall are happier than those in other professions, according to results from a national survey.

“The most satisfying jobs are mostly professions, especially those involving caring for, teaching and protecting others and creative pursuits,” said Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey (GSS) at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The 2006 General Social Survey is based on interviews with randomly selected people who collectively represent a cross section of Americans. In the current study, interviewers asked more than 27,000 people questions about job satisfaction and general happiness. Individuals' level of contentment affects their overall sense of happiness, Smith said.

“Work occupies a large part of each worker’s day, is one’s main source of social standing, helps to define who a person is and affects one’s health both physically and mentally,” Smith states in a published report on the study. “Because of work’s central role in many people’s lives, satisfaction with one’s job is an important component in overall well-being.”

Job satisfaction

Across all occupations, on average 47 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their jobs and 33 percent reported being very happy.

Here are the Top 10 most gratifying jobs and the percentage of subjects who said they were very satisfied with the job:

  • Clergy—87 percent percent
  • Firefighters—80 percent percent
  • Physical therapists—78 percent percent
  • Authors—74 percent
  • Special education teachers—70 percent
  • Teachers—69 percent
  • Education administrators—68 percent
  • Painters and sculptors—67 percent
  • Psychologists—67 percent
  • Security and financial services salespersons—65 percent
  • Operating engineers—64 percent
  • Office supervisors—61 percent

A few common jobs in which about 50 percent of participants reported high satisfaction included: police and detectives, registered nurses, accountants, and editors and reporters.

The perceived prestige surrounding an occupation also had an effect on job satisfaction and general happiness. Not all jobs linked with prestige topped these charts, however, including doctors and lawyers. Smith attributes this to the high degree of responsibility and stress associated with such jobs.

“The least satisfying dozen jobs are mostly low-skill, manual and service occupations, especially involving customer service and food/beverage preparation and serving,” Smith said.

Here are the 10 least gratifying jobs, where few participants reported being very satisfied:

  • Laborers, except construction—21 percent
  • Apparel clothing salespersons—24 percent  
  • Handpackers and packagers—24 percent
  • Food preparers—24 percent
  • Roofers—25 percent
  • Cashiers—25 percent
  • Furniture and home-furnishing salespersons—25 percent
  • Bartenders—26 percent
  • Freight, stock and material handlers—26 percent
  • Waiters and servers—27 percent

Happiness scores

Three occupations—clergy, firefighters and special education teachers—topped both the job-satisfaction and overall happiness lists. Roofers made it on the bottom of both charts, with just 14 percent of roofers surveyed reporting they were very happy.

People who scored high on the happiness scale had the following jobs:

  • Clergy
  • Firefighters
  • Transportation ticket and reservation agents
  • Housekeepers and butlers
  • Hardware/building supplies salespersons
  • Architects
  • Mechanics and repairers
  • Special education teachers
  • Actors and directors
  • Science technicians

Jobs that plummeted to the bottom of the happiness chart along with the roofers included garage and service station attendants and molding and casting machine operators.

Smith said the results could be useful for job-seekers as “psychological reward” is another factor, in addition to salary and employment security, that can be considered when choosing a profession.