Most trusted professions in America

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August 27, 2019
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Most trusted professions in America

It’s been said that no legacy is as rich as honesty, yet finding professionals we trust in today's era of targeted ads and confusing fine print can be a challenge. While the American public’s faith in public institutions is at its lowest point in almost three decades, certain jobs stand out as having more credibility than others. Notably, those working in health care have long been regarded as the most trustworthy (although in the year following 9/11, firefighters earned the top spot).

One notable profession to follow is journalism, as journalists have faced challenges in public trust recently. The proliferation of fake news, as well as allegations that reputable news sources are false, have shaken public trust in journalists. This is split along ideological lines: while 54% of Democrats rate journalists as having "very high" or "high" honesty and ethical standards, only one in ten Republicans feel the same way. Independents fall right in the middle at 31%. However, the overall rating for journalists is higher now than in recent years, bolstered by the 21% jump in "very high/high" ratings from Democrats between 2016 and 2018.

One profession that has been experiencing a long-term decline is America's clergy. With several sex abuse scandals revealed by the media and a youth populace that's only becoming less religious, only 37% of Americans have significant trust in the clergy, a number that's been continuously declining since 2012. 

Using 2018 Gallup poll data, Stacker compiled a roster of the most trusted professions in the United States. Survey respondents were asked to consider the honesty and ethical standards of different professions, and grade their personal trust in them as very high, high, average, low, or very low. The list is ranked by the percentage of respondents who answered “very high” or “high.”

Read on to find out who Americans trust the most, and who needs to work on their bona fides.

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#20. Members of Congress

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 8% (4% lower than 2008)

Americans trust Congress and its members less than any other political institution, including those in the Democratic and Republican parties. An astounding 69% of Americans polled in 2015 said Congress focuses more on the desires of special interests than the needs of constituents.

#19. Car salespeople

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 8% (1% higher than 2008)

Fixed pricing, buying vehicles online without car-lot pressure, and efforts at more transparency don't seem to have dented public perception that many care salespeople are hustlers. It's true that buyers can often become confused by the process which becomes more complicated when a salesperson slips add-ons into a sale or lease agreement. Those extras, from undercoating to extended warranties, can quickly rack up monthly costs.

#18. Telemarketers

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 9% (data not available for 2008)

Automated robocalls have only worsened the reputations of telemarketers. Many people report feeling particularly put off by telemarketers who do not identify themselves, but who seem to have extensive personal information about whom they're calling. Telemarketers are legally only allowed to call between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., but the law—and signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry—offers only middling relief.

#17. Advertising practitioners

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 13% (3% higher than 2008)

The questionable ethics of Don Draper and his slick, hard-drinking colleagues in “Mad Men” only partially explains the lack of trust in advertising. Today, we're steeped in conflicting ads everywhere we look: from TV commercials and computer pop-ups to videos at the gas pump and in the backseat of cabs. The sensory overload and confusing messaging have taken their toll on how much people can trust or absorb.

#16. Stockbrokers

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 14% (2% higher than 2008)

In a 2016 poll, 65% of respondents reported a lack of trust in people working in the financial services industry to at least some degree. It may be for good reason: From 2005 to 2015, about 87,000 financial advisors were found guilty of misconduct. Maybe that's why today there are so many television commercials portraying financial advisors as virtual members of the family.

#15. Business executives

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 17% (5% higher than 2008)

The financial crisis of 2008 severely damaged the American perception of corporate executives, and the image has yet to fully recover. Today, just 36% of Americans view corporations as a “source of hope” for the economy; and half of all millennials believe corporations only conduct charitable efforts for tax purposes.

#14. Lawyers

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 19% (1% higher than 2008)

About 74% of Americans believe lawyers are more interested in winning a case than seeing justice served, while 69% consider lawyers more interested in making money than helping their clients. This perception may be helped along by courtroom dramas on screen, where fictionalized lawyers often serve to amp up drama—or in real life, anytime a lawyer is proven to have sidestepped law.

#13. Labor union leaders

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 21% (data not available for 2008)

Approval of unions hit a 15-year high in 2018, with 62% of Americans coming down on the side of organized labor. That growing support apparently doesn't extend to labor union leaders. That may be, in part, because the long history of labor corruption—think Jimmy Hoffa or Tony Scotto—sticks in the public's mind.

#12. Real estate agents

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 25% (data not available for 2008)

Distrust of real estate agents stems from a variety of reasons, including the relatively little training required to go out and sell houses. The housing crisis that began in 2008 didn't help matters, nor does the fact that agents make commissions off of sale prices (so the higher the price, the higher the commission). Young people harbor an especially strong distrust of real estate agents, with 73% of respondents aged 18 to 24 seeing them in a negative light.

#11. Bankers

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 27% (4% higher than 2008)

Events such as The Great Depression and the financial crisis of 2008 have cause further damage to Americans' already tenuous relationship with bankers. It hasn't helped that one bank standing relatively tall after the big meltdown of 2008, Wells Fargo, has been buffeted by scandals since 2015.

#10. Building contractors

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 29% (data not available for 2008)

Construction and remodeling are among the highest costs homeowners face—and it's hard to know who to trust when almost everyone has heard horror stories about a friend or relative who got ripped off by unscrupulous contractors. Checking up on a contractor's accreditation may be one way to avoid being taken to the cleaners. In a survey of construction and remodeling businesses accredited by the Better Business Bureau, 81% said the organization helped them build trust.

#9. Journalists

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 33% (8% higher than 2008)

While the news media in the United States has become increasingly partisan, Americans are actually trusting journalists more these days than in many years past. A 2018 Edelman study showed that while people place less faith in social media platforms, the public's trust in journalism has risen 5% since 2017. Some of this may be because people consume media that reflects and affirms their own views instead of seeking a diverse range of news and opinion sources.

#8. Clergy

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 37% (19% lower than 2008)

High-profile scandals, including sex-abuse cases that have tarnished the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church, have severely damaged the image of the clergy in view of many Americans. The faithful who once placed enormous amounts of trust in members of the clergy—be they priests, ministers, pastors, imams, or rabbis—have grown more suspicious. That is a dramatic change from the years prior to 1999, when the clergy was often among the highest-rated professions in terms of ethics.  

#7. Funeral directors

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 39% (data not available for 2008)

At one of the most emotional points in anyone's life, the death of a loved one, funeral directors are there. People generally put enormous amounts of faith in funeral directors to respect and care for the departed. Perhaps that is one reason they garner a decent level of trust. More women joining the traditionally male-dominated profession may also help explain shifting public attitudes.

#6. Accountants

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 42% (data not available for 2008)

Because so many people rely on accountants to complete or assist with their taxes, CPAs often build a close network of contacts and referrals, and to obtain a referral, they generally have delivered a positive and trusting experience. Accountants can be privy to intimate details of a client's financial life and often come to be considered trusted advisors besides saving you from trying to sort through complicated, headache-inducing tax requirements.

#5. Police officers

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 54% (2% lower than 2008)

While confidence in law enforcement in the United States dipped in 2014 and 2015 after a series of high-profile incidents in which police were accused of unnecessary violence and brutality, the public has regained some of its trust. However, while overall trust in police officers is high, it remains low among African Americans, Hispanics, liberals, and young adults under the age of 35. Confidence in cops among Republicans or Republican-leaning voters, whites, and those older than 55 has increased, suggesting a growing division.

#4. High school teachers

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 60% (data not available for 2008)

Americans trust high school teachers so much that 73% surveyed in a 2011 poll felt teachers should be allowed more flexibility in creating a classroom curriculum. The same poll also revealed that the public generally desires better teachers more than it wants better scientists. In recent years, the respect for teachers has only grown. In 1977, just 29% of people viewed teachers as having “very great prestige,” compared with 51% in 2009.

#3. Pharmacists

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 66% (4% lower than 2008)

Pharmacists are held in high esteem—as of 2017, survey respondents gave their pharmacies a 75% favorability rating and their pharmacists a 77% favorability rating. The high ratings are most likely because of the wealth of expertise and schooling pharmacists are required to have, which instills patient trust. Furthermore, pharmacists are also known to be especially accessible whenever a customer needs them.

#2. Medical doctors

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 67% (3% higher than 2008)

One reason for the trust placed in medical doctors may be that they are viewed as independent of the government, corporations, and insurance companies, which are sometimes seen as negative institutions. Doctors also have the opportunity to build face-to-face relationships with patients, which is an advantage that few other professions have. This connection, combined with the knowledge that doctors had to undergo intensive schooling and experiential training, can make a patient feel less like a client and the physician more like a trusted friend.

#1. Nurses

- Percent of respondents that highly trust the profession: 84% (data not available for 2008)

Nurses have beaten out all other professions in the public’s view of honesty and ethical standards for over two decades, with the exception of just one year. Patients expect nurses to be honest, and frequently build close relationships with them, similar to the one between doctor and patient. However, unlike doctors, nurses are responsible for providing the basics of care and are often the first ones to hold a patient’s hand—both literally and figuratively—during difficult medical moments.

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