From Doctors to Military Officers: Occupational Prestige Scores among Civilians and Cadets

According to the sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), differences in a society result from the three Ps: power, personal wealth, and prestige. While power is political and wealth is economic, prestige is socio-cultural. It results from subjective judgements people attribute to people or groups of people. For example, jobs that groups of people occupy have prestige assigned to them and thus become stratified in society—not viewed or treated as equal. This post reviews occupational prestige comparing cadets and civilians, emphasizing the relative prestige of military officers among these groups.

The study of occupational prestige rankings dates back almost 100 years (see Grusky, 2001; Nakao and Treas, 1994). Donald J. Treiman’s book Occupational Prestige in Comparative Perspective (Academic Press, 1977) offered one of the first comprehensive studies comparing perceived prestige rankings of jobs and occupations across nations including the United States. In the book, the top five occupations ranked on a scale from one to 100 include physician, Supreme Court judge, college president, astronaut, and lawyer (cited in Henslin, 2019). For sixty other countries the top five order is college president, Supreme Court judge, and astronaut. Physician and college professor are tied for fourth. The bottom three in the U.S. are street sweeper, shoe shiner, and janitor and for the other countries shoe shiner and garbage collector and street sweeper are tied for second on the bottom. Later studies in the U.S. located physicians, college professors, lawyers, dentists, architect, and bankers in the top five with newspaper vendor at the bottom (National Opinion Research Center, 2016; Smith et al., 2019 cited in Schaefer, 2022).

Unfortunately, in almost all the earlier studies, “military officer” or “soldier” is not included as a coded occupational classification system in the U.S. Bureau of the Census (Nakao and Treas, 1994:8) in the prestige rankings. Scholars continued to leave out the military in the 2000’s despite the suspension of the draft and the military being all-volunteer (Frederick, 2010). By the way, “Sociologist” as an occupation, has ranked in the top 10 in at least one study (Smith and Son, 2014 cited in Giddens et al., 2020).

We asked college undergraduates to rank 16 professions from most prestigious (#1) to least prestigious (#16). In our case, the lower the score (the mean) the higher the ranking. The top 10 are listed in Table 1. The data covers a total of nine years from 2008 to 2016. The table below shows physicians continue to rate the highest with military officer, lawyer, diplomat, and university professor rounding out the top five (see Overall Mean score). This is consistent with the Harris Poll of roughly the same period.

Profession / OccupationOverall MeanROTC CadetCivilian StudentAcademy Cadet
Medical Doctor2.882.902.193.15
Military Officer3.923.256.283.16
Priest, Clergy8.979.0010.008.96
Table 1. Occupational Prestige Rankings among Military Cadets and Civilian College Students

Next, we wanted to see if differences exist across our three undergraduate groups. In this case civilian undergraduates and the two groups destined to be actual military officers once they graduate—ROTC and military academy cadets. The findings in the table above show significant similarity for the three groups—ROTC, Civilian, and Military Academies undergraduates. Civilian undergraduates are strikingly similar in prestige rankings to their military-affiliated peers. Of some interest, for all three groups physicians remain at the top for all three groups. But. For civilians, lawyers are perceived as slightly more prestigious than military officers. And engineers crack the top five for ROTC cadets and civilians. Most striking, civilian undergraduates with limited or no military affiliation show markedly similar status rankings as their military affiliated peers. Treiman’s (1977) notion appears to hold—perceptions of the prestige hierarchy hold across numerous subgroups in societies. In the present case, showing no notable gap between military-affiliated and civilians.


Croteau, David and William Hoynes. 2019. Experience Sociology, NY: McGraw Hill Education, pp. 343-344. 

Frederick, Carl. 2010. A Crosswalk for Using Pre-2000 Occupational Status and Prestige Codes with Post-2000 Occupation Codes. Center for Demography and Ecology, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin. Available online here.  

Harris Poll, The. 2014. Doctors, Military Officers, Firefighters, and Scientists Seen as Among America’s Most Prestigious Occupations. The Harris Poll (September 10).  Available online here

Giddens, Anthony, Mitchell Duneier, Richard P. Appelbaum, and Deborah Carr. 2020. Introduction to Sociology (12th Edition). NY: W.W. Norton & Company. Pp. 248-249. 

Grusky, David B. (ed.) 2001. Social Stratification in Sociological Perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 

Henslin, James M. 2019. Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. Boston, MA: Pearson. 

Nakao, Keiko and Judith Treas. 1994. “Updating Occupational Prestige and Socioeconomic Scores: How the New Measures Measure up,” Sociological Methodology, 24:1-72. 

National Opinion Research Center, 2016. General Social Surveys, 1972-2014: Cumulative Codebook. Available online here

Schaefer, Richard T. 2022. Sociology: A Brief Introduction (14e). NY McGraw Hill, pp. 182-183. 

Treiman, Donald J. 1977. Occupational Prestige in Comparative Perspective. New York: Academic Press.

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