The Nation’s Most Meaningful Jobs Pay Less Than $50,000

A survey of 2.7 million workers reveals the most — and least — meaningful careers. Find out where your job ranks.

What do clergy members, English teachers and surgeons have in common?

They have three of the most meaningful jobs in the nation, according to PayScale’s analysis of more than 500 job titles, which was released today.

The website, which focuses on salaries, ranked job meaningfulness based on answers to the question, “Does your job make the world a better place?”

The question was part of a PayScale survey taken by 2.7 million people between June 2013 and June 2015.

The PayScale findings underscore the fact that money and meaning do not always go hand in hand.

For example, clergy members ranked No. 1 in meaningfulness. But they make a relatively paltry median salary of $46,000.

Post-secondary English language and literature teachers tied for second place. They earn median salaries of $43,600..

Several high-paying jobs also were deemed meaningful. Surgeons tied for the second-highest meaningfulness score (along with the teachers mentioned above, and directors, religious activities and education) and had the distinction of being the best-paid workers in the survey, with median annual pay of $304,000.

PayScale’s definition of annual pay includes annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions and other applicable forms of cash earnings. It excludes stock and benefits.

Two other types of medical doctors earn a median salary of six figures and made it into the top 10 based on their meaningfulness scores: psychiatrists ($197,000, 92 percent meaningful) and anesthesiologists ($273,000, 91 percent meaningful).

PayScale notes that high-paying jobs tend to have high scores for meaningfulness:

The majority of the highest-paying jobs (over $100,000 per year) see job meaning rates of 75 percent or above. However, there are some notable exceptions, especially in tech.

So which employees are least likely to feel their jobs make the world a better place? Parking lot attendants. They scored 5 percent for meaningfulness. They also have a relatively low median annual pay, $19,700.

The most meaningful jobs in PayScale’s rankings, which earned scores ranging from 98 percent (the clergy) to 91 percent (the bottom five positions on this list finished in a five-way tie), are:

  • Clergy
  • English language and literature teachers, postsecondary
  • Surgeons
  • Directors, religious activities and education
  • Education administrators, elementary and secondary school
  • Radiation therapists
  • Chiropractors
  • Psychiatrists
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Rehabilitation counselors
  • Occupational therapists
  • Kindergarten teachers, except special education
  • Epidemiologists

The least meaningful jobs, which earned scores from 26 percent (the top five positions listed in a five-way tie) to 5 percent (parking lot attendants), are:

  • Fashion designers
  • Purchasing agents and buyers, farm products
  • Crushing, grinding and polishing machine setters, operators and tenders
  • Counter and rental clerks
  • Welding, soldering and brazing machine setters, operators and tenders
  • Fabric and apparel patternmakers
  • Title examiners, abstractors and searchers
  • Prepress technicians and workers
  • Gaming supervisors
  • Parking lot attendants

Click here for the complete rankings.

How would you rank your job for meaningfulness? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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