Susan Fiske, a psychology and public policy professor at Princeton, and Cydney Dupree, a graduate student there, have just published some interesting new research about how Americans view various professions in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their method was simple: they asked one big group of online respondents to generate a list of jobs, picked the 42 most commonly chosen ones, and then asked another online group to rank those 42 by “competence” and “warmth.”
The resulting chart is a bit messy, since so many jobs are listed on it, but all you need to know is that the left-right axis runs from least to most competent, while the low-high axis runs from coldest to warmest. So those holding the jobs in the bottom left quadrant (fast-food workers, garbage collectors, and the like) are seen as neither competent nor warm and friendly. The authors clustered the professions into four similarly ranked groups indicated by ovals:
Three random non-rigorous observations:
• Lawyers are viewed as cold, ruthlessly efficient machines, of course.
• There’s a clear class element at work here. People either assume those who don’t make much money are incompetent, are more likely to have had negative experiences with members of those professions (given the sheer number of interactions we have with fast-food workers and customer-service representatives, you would expect some bad memories to stand out), or both.
• I’m slightly surprised doctors are ranked so warmly, given the prevalence of stories (at least among my friends and family members) about doctors acting in aloof or arrogant ways. Maybe when people are asked about “doctors” in general they think about primary-care physicians, who probably have better reputations.