Skip to main content

American Workforce Surprisingly Satisfied

Study: Familiarity Can Muddle Communication

Although many Americans will grumble about going back to work after they barbeque or hit the beach this Labor Day weekend, most will actually be content once they are back in the office. Regardless of complaints about downsizing, dead-end jobs, and burnout, most people in this country are satisfied with their jobs, according to a recent study.

"You hear all of these stories about a growing dissatisfaction with jobs being outsourced and downgraded, which present a negative state of workers," said Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. "But the level of job satisfaction has changed very little in 30 years."

The General Social Survey began in 1972 and is based on interviews with randomly selected Americans, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center/University of Chicago. Interviewers asked participants questions about job satisfaction and general happiness.

The study found that greater fulfillment comes with age, education and income.

Of those surveyed, 86 percent reported being satisfied with their jobs, whereas only 4 percent said they were very dissatisfied with their jobs. Since 1972, job satisfaction has never dipped below 82 percent.

  • Among the interesting findings from the research:
  • People with post-graduate degrees are more fulfilled at work than those with less than a high-school education.
  • Fewer workers earning less than $12,500 per year are very satisfied compared to those making more than $110,000 a year.
  • Job satisfaction is greater among those who are still working after age 65 and lowest among workers under 29.
  • Full-time workers are more satisfied than part-time workers.
  • Homemakers slightly edge both full- and part-time employed groups with greater contentment.
  • Blacks are less satisfied with their jobs than whites.
  • Hispanics have somewhat lower job satisfaction than non-Hispanics.
  • Workers in the South Central states from Texas and Oklahoma through Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee, rate their job satisfaction the highest. Meanwhile, people living in the Western states are the least satisfied.
  • Union and non-union workers have similar levels of job satisfaction.
  • Men and women do not differ meaningfully in their average satisfaction.

According to earlier results of the study, 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.

"Of course, this is on average," Smith told LiveScience. "Some people go through their whole lives being unsatisfied."

Corey Binns lives in Northern California and writes about science, health, parenting, and social change. In addition to writing for Live Science, she's contributed to publications including Popular Science,, Scholastic, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review as well as others. She's also produced stories for NPR’s Science Friday and Sundance Channel. She studied biology at Brown University and earned a Master's degree in science journalism from NYU. The Association of Health Care Journalists named her a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow in 2009. She has chased tornadoes and lived to tell the tale.