The Most (and Least) Meaningful Jobs

April 6, 2016 by Mike Sauter

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.

The Most Meaningful Jobs

20. Mental health counselors
> Pct. job meaning:
89%
> Employment: 128,200
> Annual median wage: $41,880
> Job satisfaction: 70%

Mental health counselors help patients and clients cope with emotional and mental struggles. They are also more likely to gain fulfillment from their job than the vast majority of workers across all fields. Nearly 90% of the 128,200 mental health counselors in the United States say that their work makes the world a better place. As is the case in the majority of especially fulfilling jobs, mental health counselors earn a living by helping to improve the lives of others.

19. Physical therapists
> Pct. job meaning:
90%
> Employment: 209,690
> Annual median wage: $84,020
> Job satisfaction: 79%

Physical therapists are far more likely than most professionals to feel that their job makes a meaningful difference. Similar to most other fulfilling jobs, physical therapists earn a living by helping others. They typically work in hospitals and clinics to help the injured or ill to manage pain and improve mobility. Physical therapists are relatively well compensated. The typical annual pay in the field of $84,020 is considerably higher than the $36,200 median pay across all occupations considered.

18. Family and general practitioners
> Pct. job meaning:
90%
> Employment: 127,430
> Annual median wage: $184,390
> Job satisfaction: 78%

Family and general practitioners are medical doctors who treat and monitor patients’ health and refer them to specialists if the need arises. Such physicians often care for patients — and entire families — for years, even decades. They spend much of their day helping people, with whom they often have strong relationships. Of the 127,430 family and general practitioners in the country, 90% report feeling that their job makes the world a better place. As is the case with many of the most meaningful jobs, becoming a family or general practitioner is not easy. Most jobs in the field require eight years of postsecondary education followed by three to seven years of in an internship or residency program.

17. Speech-language pathologists
> Pct. job meaning:
90%
> Employment: 131,450
> Annual median wage: $73,410
> Job satisfaction: 79%

Like many of the most meaningful jobs, speech-language pathologists earn their living by helping others. Professional speech-language pathologists work with people who have difficulty communicating verbally, often as a consequence of hearing loss or a stroke. As the baby boom generation ages, the demand for speech-language pathologists will likely increase. Over the next decade, employment in the field is projected to grow by 21%, far outpacing the projected 7% employment growth across all occupations. Jobs in the field typically require a master’s degree and often a state issued license to practice. Relatively well compensated, the typical speech-pathologist earns $73,410 annually.

16. First-line supervisors of police and detectives
> Pct. job meaning:
90%
> Employment: 100,370
> Annual median wage: $82,090
> Job satisfaction: 85%

While health care workers and teachers dominate the list of highly meaningful jobs, police work can also be fulfilling. Most first-line police supervisors and detectives often feel they are making a difference by keeping the streets safe. The majority of the most meaningful jobs tend to require at least a college education. These higher-ranking police and detectives typically need only a high school diploma.

15. Education administrators, preschool and childcare
> Pct. job meaning:
90%
> Employment: 46,760
> Annual median wage: $45,670
> Job satisfaction: 81%

An uncommonly high nine out of 10 education administrators who work in preschools or child care centers believe that their work makes the world a better place. As is the case in the few jobs where a similar share of workers report such fulfillment, education administrators help improve the lives of others. Job responsibilities typically include planning and directing lessons and activities for students and daycare attendees. The typical education administrator earns $45,670 a year, nearly $10,000 more than the median annual wage across all professions.

14. Medical appliance technicians
> Pct. job meaning:
90%
> Employment: 14,640
> Annual median wage: $34,890
> Job satisfaction: 78%

While most highly meaningful jobs pay relatively well, medical appliance technicians is an exception. The typical technician earns $34,890 annually, slightly less than the $36,200 median income across all occupations. Despite lower than average salaries, nine out 10 workers in the field report feeling that their job makes the world a better place. Medical appliance technicians likely derive fulfillment from helping others in need as their duties often include building and fitting medical support devices such as braces or prosthetic limbs.

13. Kindergarten teachers
> Pct. job meaning:
91%
> Employment: 158,150
> Annual median wage: $51,640
> Job satisfaction: 81%

Kindergarten teachers are primarily responsible for overseeing and promoting students’ mental, social, and emotional development by engaging them in creative activities and teaching them practical life skills such as personal hygiene. With an annual salary of $51,640, the typical kindergarten teacher earns roughly $15,000 more than the median annual income across all jobs in the U.S.

12. Rehabilitation counselors
> Pct. job meaning:
91%
> Employment: 101,630
> Annual median wage: $34,390
> Job satisfaction: 74%

While a good salary it is often a key goal for workers, money is not a direct factor in the feeling of fulfillment workers find in a job. More than nine out of every 10 rehabilitation counselors believe that their work makes the world a better place, however, the median income in the field of $34,390 a year is slightly less than the $36,200 median income across all occupations. Rehabilitation counselors typically work with veterans or the elderly, helping them cope with disabilities — physical, mental, or social — and live independently.

11. Occupational therapists
> Pct. job meaning:
91%
> Employment: 114,660
> Annual median wage: $80,150
> Job satisfaction: 77%

Helping with the rehabilitation process can be a rewarding experience, and a high share of several different kinds of therapists say they have a meaningful job. Occupational therapists work with individuals who suffer from an injury or disability and help them return to an active lifestyle. Like many occupations in the medical field, the already high demand for occupational therapists is expected to increase going forward as the number of aging Americans is projected to grow dramatically in the coming years. According to the BLS, the number of occupational therapists is expected to increase by 26.5% over the next 10 years, faster than the vast majority of jobs.

10. Anesthesiologists
> Pct. job meaning:
91%
> Employment: 29,220
> Annual median wage: $00
> Job satisfaction: 83%

Like many jobs with high reported levels of fulfillment, anesthesiologists work in medicine. Anesthesiologists are responsible for administering anesthetics before, during, and after surgical procedures. Helping people in need in such a tangible way likely affirms a sense of meaning among professionals in the field. Though the job is fulfilling, it is not especially easy to become an anesthesiologists. The vast majority of anesthesiologist jobs require post-doctorate training.

9. Epidemiologists
> Pct. job meaning:
91%
> Employment: 5,460
> Annual median wage: $69,450
> Job satisfaction: 77%

While professionals in several jobs report feeling that their work makes the world a better place, epidemiologists are one of the few who truly work on a global scale. Epidemiologists work to identify and prevent the spread of diseases and conditions before they become serious problems. Epidemiologists, for example, have been working to identify the connection between the mosquito-borne Zika virus and microcephaly, a disease that can cause physical deformity and stops brain development. Epidemiology is a relatively specialized position. Less than 5,500 epidemiologists are currently employed in the United States.

8. Chiropractors
> Pct. job meaning:
92%
> Employment: 32,080
> Annual median wage: $64,440
> Job satisfaction: 70%

Only six jobs in the country have a higher share of workers who feel that their job makes the world a better place than chiropractors. Chiropractors primarily help their patients by manipulating their spine in order to treat specific bodily aches and pains. As the baby boom generation continues to age, employment in the field is projected to grow by 14% over the next eight years, roughly twice as fast as employment growth across all occupations. Many chiropractors may have a great deal of independence or control over their work schedule as roughly one-third of all chiropractors in the country are self employed, one of the largest such shares of any occupation.

7. Psychiatrists
> Pct. job meaning:
92%
> Employment: 24,060
> Annual median wage: N/A
> Job satisfaction: 85%

The 24,060 psychiatrists working in the United States are very well compensated, earning nearly $200,000 a year on average. Income is an important factor in job satisfaction, and the position’s high earnings may explain the 85% job satisfaction rate among psychiatrists, which is tied for 10th highest across all occupations. Of course, many psychiatrists may enjoy their work because they feel they are making a difference. Of the psychiatrists surveyed by PayScale, 92% said they felt they were making the world a better place.

6. Radiation therapists
> Pct. job meaning:
93%
> Employment: 16,930
> Annual median wage: $80,220
> Job satisfaction: 86%

Radiation therapists are at the forefront of the fight against cancer, one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Of the roughly 16,930 radiation therapists working in the country, 93% say the world is a better place because of their work. Like many other jobs in medicine, an aging population is contributing to faster than average projected employment growth in the field. By 2024, there will be an estimated 14% more radiation therapists, roughly double the growth estimate across all occupations.

5. Education administrators, elementary and secondary school
> Pct. job meaning:
95%
> Employment: 235,110
> Annual median wage: $90,410
> Job satisfaction: 88%

Teaching is often rated as a highly meaningful job, but teachers are not the only workers employed in education who find their job fulfilling. Education administrators for K-12 schools include the principals, school board, superintendents, and others who make sure schools run smoothly and that the needs of students are met. Unlike many jobs in K-12 education, school administrators are paid quite well, with a typical worker earning $90,410 annually compared to a national median wage of $36,200.

4. Directors, religious activities and education
> Pct. job meaning:
96%
> Employment: 20,280
> Annual median wage: $38,780
> Job satisfaction: 84%

Religious directors manage retreats, camps, and other programs related to a particular faith. Unlike many other director positions, these individuals are do not receive unusually high compensation. In fact, the typical religious director earns $38,780 annually, just slightly higher than the $36,200 annual median wage across all occupations. Still, of those surveyed by PayScale, 84% said they enjoyed their work, one of the highest proportions of any occupation. This high level of satisfaction may be due to the fact that more than 19 out of every 20 directors feel like they are making a difference in the world.

3. English language and literature teachers, postsecondary
> Pct. job meaning:
96%
> Employment: 75,730
> Annual median wage: $61,990
> Job satisfaction: 74%

College and postgraduate level English language and literature teachers report some of the highest levels of fulfillment of any profession in the country. Roughly 19 out of 20 of those surveyed said they felt that their work makes the world a better place. English professors often teach comparative literature while conducting academic research in their specific field. Employment growth in the field through 2024 is projected to outpace the 7% employment growth across all occupations.

2. Surgeons
> Pct. job meaning:
96%
> Employment: 41,600
> Annual median wage: N/A
> Job satisfaction: 83%

Becoming a surgeon requires at least a decade of education that is extremely expensive and emotionally and physically demanding. Still, those who are able to withstand the process are rewarded with high pay, job satisfaction, and a sense of fulfillment. The average surgeon earns just under $250,000 a year. Of surgeons surveyed by PayScale, 83% said they enjoyed their work, one of the highest proportions among the hundreds of occupations considered.

1. Clergy
> Pct. job meaning:
98%
> Employment: 48,250
> Annual median wage: $44,250
> Job satisfaction: 90%

Members of the clergy include ministers, pastors, priests and rabbis among many others. No matter the faith or denomination, the feeling that their work is making a difference is nearly universal among clergymen and clergywomen. Duties of the clergy often include leading spiritual functions, conducting worship sessions, and providing spiritual counsel. Because a firm belief in their respective spiritual teaching is a necessity in the field, it is perhaps no surprise that 98% of clergy say their job makes a difference in the world.

The Least Meaningful Jobs

16. Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers
> Pct. job meaning:
28%
> Employment: 25,270
> Annual median wage: $37,060
> Job satisfaction: 53%

Of the jewelers and precious stone and metal workers surveyed by PayScale, just 28% said they felt their work makes the world a better place. While they often produce and sell very expensive items, jewelers and precious stone and metal workers do not earn high wages — the median annual wage is just slightly more than the median pay across all occupations. While only a small share of these workers find their jobs meaningful, fewer still will be able to find meaning in coming years. Employment in this occupation is expected to shrink by 11.3% in the next 10 years as these jobs are expected to go overseas. To compare, employment across all occupations is expected to grow by 7%.

15. Multimedia artists and animators
> Pct. job meaning:
28%
> Employment: 30,240
> Annual median wage: $63,970
> Job satisfaction: 65%

Only 28% of multimedia artists and animators feel that their work makes a difference in the world, one of the smallest shares of any occupation in the country. Jobs in the field rarely require more than a bachelor’s degree and typically involve digitally creating animation and effects for video games, television, and movies. While workers in the field may not find their job especially meaningful, many likely have a greater degree of flexibility and independence in their work as more than half of all workers in the field are self employed.

14. Cooks, fast food
> Pct. job meaning:
28%
> Employment: 520,010
> Annual median wage: $19,080
> Job satisfaction: 48%

Jobs in the fast food industry are often considered entry level and are commonly held by high school and college students. People rarely find fulfillment in such jobs. Only 28% of fast food cooks say that their job makes a difference in the world. With no formal educational barrier to entry, wages are relatively low in the field. A typical fast food cook earns only $19,080, far less than the median salary of $36,200 across all occupations.

13. Pourers and casters, metal
> Pct. job meaning:
27%
> Employment: 9,630
> Annual median wage: $33,850
> Job satisfaction: 64%

Pourers and casters use molten metal to produce specific castings or ingots. The vast majority of workers in the field report working in uncomfortable surroundings with extremely high temperatures and distracting noise levels on a daily basis. Only 27% of metal pourers and casters think that their job makes the world a better place.

12. Brokerage clerks
> Pct. job meaning:
27%
> Employment: 57,490
> Annual median wage: $48,180
> Job satisfaction: 59%

Brokerage clerks work at brokerage firms, assisting in the trading of stocks by recording and verifying transactions, computing taxes, and tracking price changes. A typical broker clerk is paid reasonably well, with a median wage of $48,180 a year, higher than the national median of $36,200. Only 27% of brokerage clerks said they felt they were making the world a better place. While employment in many of the least fulfilling positions is expected to decline in the coming years, the number of brokerage clerks is expected to increase by 9% over the next 10 years, a higher projected growth compared to the 7% growth rate across all jobs.

11. Printing press operators
> Pct. job meaning:
27%
> Employment: 168,330
> Annual median wage: $35,240
> Job satisfaction: 55%

Some of the responsibilities of printing press operators include setting and aligning the presses, using the proper ink to meet job specifications, and random inspections of printed material in order to catch and errors. Jobs in the field require a high capacity for stress and attention to detail. Due in part to the declining newspaper industry, employment in the field is projected to decline by 2% by 2024, while employment across all occupations is projected to grow by 7% by 2024. Only 27% of printing press operators feel their job makes the world a better place.

10. Fashion designers
> Pct. job meaning:
26%
> Employment: 19,040
> Annual median wage: $63,670
> Job satisfaction: 58%

Fashion designers work to create original styles of clothing and accessories by sketching, selecting fabrics, and creating sample garments. While the job may be creatively fulfilling for some, there is a pervasive sense that the job does not make a meaningful difference in the world. The relatively high salaries may help offset the designers’ lack of perceived meaning. The median pay in the field of $63,670 a year is far higher than most of the least fulfilling jobs and roughly $33,000 more than the median compensation across all occupations.

9. Crushing, grinding, and polishing machine workers
> Pct. job meaning:
26%
> Employment: 31,140
> Annual median wage: $33,810
> Job satisfaction: 41%

Crusher, grinder, and polishing machine operators are more likely to believe that their job does not make a difference in the world than workers in the vast majority of other occupations. As their titles suggest, those in the field use machinery to crush, grind, or polish certain materials such as stone, glass, or coal. As is the case in many jobs where a relatively small share of workers feel like they are making a difference, there are little to no educational requirements for grinding and crushing machine operators and tenders. The majority of workers in the occupation have a high school diploma or less.

8. Welding, soldering, and brazing Machine workers
> Pct. job meaning:
26%
> Employment: 53,080
> Annual median wage: $36,150
> Job satisfaction: 63%

Welders and solderers are far more likely to perceive their job as meaningless than most people in the workforce. Most jobs entail operating welding machines to assemble metal components as outlined in blueprints or work orders. In addition to a lack of fulfillment, roughly 75% of workers in the field in report being exposed to contaminants and uncomfortable noise levels on a daily basis. Pay among welders and solderers is not exceptional. The typical worker in the field earns $36,150 annually, about as much as the median income across all occupations.

7. Counter and rental clerks
> Pct. job meaning:
26%
> Employment: 447,050
> Annual median wage: $24,440
> Job satisfaction: 43%

Counter and rental clerks are customer facing employees such as cashiers, rental agents, and customer service associates. A relatively small share of such clerks think their work makes the world a better place. Counter and rental clerks are also among the lowest paid workers in the country, earning only $24,440 a year — far less than the $36,200 median salary across all occupations. Low pay is likely partially due to a low educational requirements. The majority of those employed in the field do not have a high school diploma.

6. Buyers and purchasing agents, farm products
> Pct. job meaning:
26%
> Employment: 12,160
> Annual median wage: $56,270
> Job satisfaction: 52%

Buyers and purchasing agents of farm products negotiate contracts with farms to buy their products — such as grains or milk — for the purpose of processing or reselling. Jobs in the field can be stressful and often require attention to detail. Though relatively few buyers of farm products find meaning in their job, they are often well compensated. The typical farm product purchasing agent earns $56,270 annually, considerably more than the $36,200 median salary across all occupations.

5. Fabric and apparel patternmakers
> Pct. job meaning:
25%
> Employment: 5,140
> Annual median wage: $43,900
> Job satisfaction: 50%

Only one in four pattern makers for fabric and apparel feel that their work makes the world a better place. Most people in the field design fabric patterns and layouts, often using design software. Many jobs in the field are highly repetitive and procedure based. Over the next decade, the number of people employed as fabric and apparel pattern makers is expected to decline by 26%, while employment across all industries is projected to increase by 7%.

4. Prepress technicians and workers
> Pct. job meaning:
25%
> Employment: 35,330
> Annual median wage: $38,270
> Job satisfaction: 51%

Prepress technicians format and proof text and images that designers submit before creating a finished product. Many workers in the field also clean and maintain printing equipment. Most prepress technicians report repetitive day to day tasks and daily deadline pressures. Only one in four prepress technicians find their work fulfilling, one of the smallest shares of any occupation in the country.

3. Title examiners, abstractors, and searchers
> Pct. job meaning:
25%
> Employment: 54,620
> Annual median wage: $44,370
> Job satisfaction: 70%

Title examiners, abstractors, and searchers are responsible for examining documents such as liens, mortgages, and contracts in order to identify and summarize any restrictions or legal provisions that might affect involved parties. Such jobs are repetitive in nature and require attention to detail. Most examiners and searchers have only a high school diploma or the equivalent and work for law firms, title insurance companies, or real estate agencies. Only a quarter of the roughly 54,620 employed in the occupation find meaning in their jobs.

2. Gaming supervisors
> Pct. job meaning:
20%
> Employment: 22,640
> Annual median wage: $49,730
> Job satisfaction: 77%

Gaming supervisors, often referred to as pit bosses or casino supervisors, circulate around gaming floors to ensure smooth operation at gaming tables and to field questions and complaints from patrons. They are also often charged with analyzing gamblers’ behavior in order to spot cheaters and card counters. Like many jobs on this list, gaming supervisors are client facing, and often face difficult situations. Only one in every five gaming supervisors say that their job has meaning.

1. Parking lot attendants
> Pct. job meaning:
5%
> Employment: 144,150
> Annual median wage: $20,630
> Job satisfaction: 41%

Only 5% of parking lot attendants believe that their work is meaningful, by far the smallest share of any occupation surveyed. Like many of the least meaningful jobs, parking lot attendants are paid relatively little, earning a median of just $20,630 annually. Workers in the field are often employed as valet parkers at restaurants or booth attendants in parking garages. Parking lot attendants’ duties are service oriented and often repetitive.