The Most (and Least) Meaningful Jobs

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The U.S. monthly unemployment rate fell below 5% this January — the first time it has done so in eight years. A healthier economy means that some American workers can now be more selective with where they apply for jobs. Some of those workers may look for positions that provide more than simply a good salary and benefits.

For many job seekers, the social or environmental impact of a potential job is just as important as how much it pays. PayScale, a salary, benefits, and employment data resource, surveyed more than two million workers across more than 500 jobs to determine the share of workers in each position who felt their work made the world a better place — in other words, those who felt their jobs had meaning. The responses vary to the extreme, depending on the position. All but 2% of clergy said that they felt their work was meaningful, while only 5% of parking lot attendants said the same.

Not surprisingly, the types of occupations that have the highest proportions of employees reporting a high sense of meaning are in fields that aim to help people. Nearly all of the workers with the highest degree of perceived meaning are either medical professionals, teachers, or are affiliated with a religious institution. Many of the workers at the other end of the list are either service workers or employed in middle- to low-skilled, repetitive work such as gaming supervisors, printing press operators, and fabric patternmakers.

Click here to see the most meaningful jobs.

Click here to see the least meaningful jobs.

While some believe that their job is making the world a better place, they may not be very satisfied with it. Still, in many cases, the two go hand in hand. None of the most meaningful positions had less than a 70% job satisfaction rate, and several of the most meaningful positions — including clergy, police and detective supervisors, and k-12 education administrators — had satisfaction rates of 85% or higher.

In a conversation with 24/7 Wall St, PayScale vice president of data analytics Katie Bardaro cautioned that while there does appear to be a relationship between the feeling of making a difference in the world and job satisfaction, that relationship is much more likely to be due to the generally higher salaries in these jobs — compensation is often related to employee happiness.

“You have a lot of very high meaning jobs at the very high end of the earning spectrum, like a lot of surgeons and physicians and healthcare workers,” Bardaro said.

There appears to be a strong relationship between the level of education typically required to obtain certain positions and how meaningful these jobs are. Nearly all of the jobs in which a high share of workers reported making a difference in the world require at least a bachelor’s degree, and many require a master’s degree or higher. At the other end of the list, most of the jobs with low reported meaning require a high school diploma or less. “There’s a barrier of entry to many of these [highly meaningful] jobs, but they’re the ones that are seeing the biggest societal benefit.” Bardaro said.

To determine the most meaningful jobs, PayScale surveyed workers across more than 500 jobs organized by standard occupational classification (SOC) code. The most meaningful jobs are those in which the highest share of recipients replied “very much so” or “yes” to the question “does your job make the world a better place.” Also included in our review are job satisfaction rates, also provided by PayScale. We also reviewed employment, educational requirement, and median wage figures based on 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. Projected job growth are also from the BLS, and represent 2014-2024 projected employment change.

These are the most (and least) meaningful jobs.