New Poll Ranks The Accounting Profession (Not So) Prestigious

The latest Harris Poll of Most Prestigious Occupations ranks accounting almost at the bottom of the list. So why doesn't this seem like a problem?

The poll, the result of telephone interviews during August 2003 among a cross section of 1,011 U.S. adults, provided insight into what Americans feel are the most prestigious occupations. Accounting came in at 18th place out of a possible 22 occupations. Fifteen percent of those questioned said that accounting is an occupation of very great prestige. The only occupations that ranked lower than accountants on the most prestigious scale were bankers (14%), actors (13%) and stockbrokers (8%).

At first that may seem like disappointing news for accountants, and some may conclude that recent developments with former Big Five firm Andersen, Enron, and auditor independence issues in general have taken a bite out of the prestige ranking that should apply to the profession, but a closer look at the survey results shows that this is not the case. Accountants received a 15% "most prestigious vote" in 2003 and a 13% vote in 2002. Compare this with results of previous years:

Percent who said that accounting is an occupation of very great prestige:

2003 – 15%
2002 – 13%
2001 – 15%
2000 – 14%
1998 – 17%
1997 – 18%
1992 – 14%
1982 – 13%

As you can see, the profession's heyday may have been in the late '90s, but there is really little difference from year to year. More notable perhaps is that, looking deeper into the poll results, one sees that when participants were asked if they considered different occupations to be of considerable prestige, some prestige, or hardly any prestige, accounting fared quite well.

In 2003, 25% indicated they thought the accounting profession had considerable prestige, and 44% said it had some prestige. Only 14% said the profession had hardly any prestige at all (compared with 20% who said that lawyers had hardly any prestige at all…).

Here is the complete list of those professions which survey respondents indicate have "very great prestige."

Scientist – 57%
Fireman – 55%
Doctor – 52%
Teacher – 49%
Nurse – 47%
Military Officer – 46%
Police Officer – 42%
Priest/Minister/Clergyman – 38%
Member of Congress – 30%
Engineer – 28%
Architect – 24%
Business Executive – 18%
Lawyer – 17%
Entertainer – 17%
Athlete – 17%
Union Leader – 15%
Journalist – 15%
Accountant – 15%
Banker – 14%
Actor – 13%
Stockbroker – 8%

You can read the complete survey results.

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