America's most and least trusted professions

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March 31, 2021
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America's most and least trusted professions

There are dozens of factors one considers when deciding on a career. How long will it take to complete the education required for entry into the field? Does the career path allow for work-life balance? Is there flexibility in where and how this job can be performed, or is it more rigid? The list goes on and on.

Aside from those more standard musings, there may be one additional question we should all be asking ourselves when it comes to choosing a profession: How trustworthy is it? Public opinion surrounding the integrity of different jobs is worth considering before embarking on a new career. This certainly doesn’t mean that less-trustworthy careers aren’t worth doing–they’re often still vital to society–but knowing ahead of time how you’ll be seen by other members of society can be the difference between being happy in your line of work and forever questioning whether or not you made the right choice.

The expert pollsters at Gallup sought out to gauge what people think of the character of individuals based on their chosen field. Gallup interviewed 1,018 adults, ages 18+, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, to find out which professions were the most and least trusted, by asking them to rate the various fields on honesty and ethical standards. Stacker ranked the 15 professions by the combined percentage of people who gave the profession a "high" or "very high" rating of honesty and ethics standards, #1 being the most trusted.

Read on to see the results, and maybe even find out the general consensus on the trustworthiness of your own career.

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#15. Members of Congress

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 1%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 7%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 29%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 39%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 24%

It’s no secret that distrust in our elected officials has been increasing over recent years. In 2015, Gallup found that there were three primary reasons Americans cited for not trusting members of Congress: they believed that they were out of touch, focused on special interests rather than the needs of constituents, and plain old corrupt.

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#14. Car salespeople

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 1%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 7%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 53%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 29%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 8%

Americans tend to view salespeople as dishonest, or at a very minimum willing to lie to get you to buy. At least one study, titled “Deception as Competence,” may indicate that these beliefs aren’t completely unfounded, as more competent and successful salespeople tend to be more dishonest. And when you’re considering a major purchase, like a car, the last thing you want is a less-than-truthful person assisting you with the process.

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#13. Advertising practitioners

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 1%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 9%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 45%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 31%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 12%

In a similar vein, Americans are very distrustful of advertisements, and, by extension, those who create them. In 2019, 96% of consumers told Inc. that they find ads to be exaggerated or over the top, implying that those who create these ads are willing to be deceitful in order to sell products.

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#12. Business executives

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 2%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 15%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 46%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 26%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 10%

In conversation with the Harvard Business Review, David Ballard, a researcher at the American Psychological Association, said that there are a number of reasons people don’t trust their employers or the higher-level executives within their companies. First, they often feel as if they aren’t treated fairly, which creates a huge chasm. Additionally, almost half of America’s workforce feels as if their employers are open and upfront, while a third feels as though they aren’t honest and truthful.

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#11. Lawyers

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 3%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 18%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 48%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 24%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 6%

With the number of bad lawyer jokes out there, it should come as no surprise that this profession ranks as one of the least-trusted in America. Lawyers, while perceived as competent and respected, are widely distrusted, likely because they will represent parties they know are guilty and have a reputation for speaking down to those they’re representing (and who are often paying them).

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#10. Journalists

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 6%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 22%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 31%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 18%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 22%

While the Trump administration certainly had a hand in increasing distrust in the media and in journalists, the phenomenon is nothing new. Since George Washington’s time in office, elected officials and the public have railed against reporters, declaring that they aren’t objective as they should be, but partisan. Still, Thomas Jefferson highlighted the importance of a robust press to act as a check on the government, writing if he had to choose “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” In the 21st century, the 24-hour news cycle, rise of Fox News, and online publications that ape journalistic outlets without adhering to basic standards have blurred the line between pundit and journalist for many Americans. 

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#9. Bankers

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 5%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 24%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 48%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 16%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 5%

As with advertisers, bankers are seen as an extension of an institution that has been deemed untrustworthy, which, by association, makes them untrustworthy. For Americans in particular, this anxiety towards banks and bankers may stem from the Great Depression, when depositors lost some $140 billion thanks to investment practices the institutions had kept a secret.

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#8. Nursing home operators

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 8%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 28%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 43%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 15%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 4%

Much of American’s distrust of nursing homes and those who run them can be tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, some 170,000 long-term care patients and staff lost their lives due to mismanagement and understaffing. The pandemic revealed a broken system that frequently fails to invest enough money in care, spending the public money on non-essentials instead.

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#7. Clergy

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 10%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 29%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 41%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 11%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 4%

Another major news event, the sex scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church may be a driving factor in the public’s distrust of clergy. Like the COVID-19 pandemic, the scandal revealed a dark side to the institution, namely the authoritarian leadership of churches of all denominations, that made Americans question whether or not they could have confidence in the profession. Similarly, Protestant church leaders’ increased political affiliations have turned many a Protestant away from the church doors.

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#6. Judges

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 9%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 34%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 40%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 12%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 4%

While judges are seen as more trustworthy than other branches of the government (like Congress and the Senate), many Americans still have their doubts, especially when it comes to federal and Supreme Court judges. The biggest concern the public has is that judges are more concerned about handing down rulings that are more in line with their political beliefs than they are about doing what is right.

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#5. Police officers

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 16%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 36%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 30%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 11%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 7%

While overall trust in police officers is high compared to other professions, Gallup reports that it is actually at a historic low, particularly among Black Americans and other minority groups. With the Black Lives Matter protests spawned by police targeting and killing minority Americans, including the especially egregious killing of George Floyd and the outsized police response, there’s increasing evidence that policing is racist, and therefore police are too.

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#4. Pharmacists

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 20%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 51%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 23%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 4%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 1%

Pharmacists have risen in the Gallup rankings over recent years, thanks in part to the easy access most Americans have to them, as well as the high levels of patient care these medical professionals regularly offer. Their upper-level degrees, which typically require eight years of study, may be another reason many give for their “very high” honest and ethical standards ratings.

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#3. Grade school teachers

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 26%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 49%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 17%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 5%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 2%

Despite the high level of trust Americans place in public school teachers, particularly grade school teachers, the profession remains one of the most underpaid in the country. On average, teachers earn 19.2% less than other college-educated workers. If nothing else, it seems like it’s time to ensure that these educators earn a living wage that’s reflective of the positive light in which we perceive them.

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#2. Medical doctors

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 27%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 50%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 19%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 2%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: 1%

Trust in medical doctors can be a difficult thing to discuss, as white Americans tend to see their healthcare providers in a more positive light than many minorities. A lack of representation, unequal access to care, and both real and perceived bias are among the many reasons Black people and other minorities remain skeptical of doctors in general. That being said, people of all races tend to view their personal doctors much more favorably than they do the profession as a whole.

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#1. Nurses

- US adults who rate industry as 'very high' for honesty and ethical standards: 41%
- US adults who rate industry as 'high' for honesty and ethical standards: 48%
- US adults who rate industry as 'average' for honesty and ethical standards: 10%
- US adults who rate industry as 'low' for honesty and ethical standards: 1%
- US adults who rate industry as 'very low' for honesty and ethical standards: %

The backbone of the American healthcare system, nurses are the most trusted professionals in today’s world. Out of all healthcare workers, sick people have more face-to-face interactions with nurses than anyone else, which allows for the development of personal relationships. The COVID-19 pandemic made Americans more grateful than ever for the tireless devotion nurses bring to our health and well-being.

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