Good jobs, bad jobs

Mathematician is the best job, according to  Lumberjack is the worst, just a hair better than dairy farmer or taxi driver.

From the Wall Street Journal:

According to the study, mathematicians fared best in part because they typically work in favorable conditions — indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise — unlike those toward the bottom of the list like sewage-plant operator, painter and bricklayer. They also aren’t expected to do any heavy lifting, crawling or crouching — attributes associated with occupations such as firefighter, auto mechanic and plumber.

Other jobs at the top of the study’s list include actuary, statistician, biologist, software engineer and computer-systems analyst, historian and sociologist. There seems to be a bias towards desk jobs.

Some of the low-scoring jobs were a surprise. Nurse? Well, there’s lots of stress and some physical exertion, but the pay is high. Is EMT a bad job while parole officer is a good job? If firefighter is such a bad job, why do so many people want to do it? Some people like to be active; some like stress.

In other career news, applicants for retail jobs are finding ways to cheat on personality tests, reports the Journal.  Some take the test multiple times, get advice from a friend who passed, look for answer keys online or get a friend to take the test for them. In your free time, do you prefer to stay home or go out? Do you think other people’s feelings are their own business? Are you bothered when something unexpected interrupts your day?

I took a personality test in 1978, when I applied for a lousy job at a local newspaper. It went on so long and repeated so many questions that I got too tired to remember my lies.  But they did call me in for an interview, so I guess I have a personality.

When I was hired by the San Jose Mercury News, I never took the personality test. My boss was too new to know he should send me through HR. Colleagues said they’d been asked whether they’d rather be a snake handler or a trapeze artist. I’m still pondering that one.

About Joanne


  1. Thunderbottom says:

    Worst jobs that I had: when I was a teenager, I was an itinerant used golfball salesman. I found this job in the local want ads. This little guy with an Italian accent and an Oldsmobile convertible would pick me up and drive me to golf courses in the southwest suburbs of Chicago where I would pick a spot on the fairway adjacent to the road to sell these used golfballs. Since I didn’t have permission from the owners of the courses to sell golf balls on their property, I had to keep an eye out for the owners or their employees. But the guy always paid me at the end of the day in cash.
    When I was 30, I worked for several months at this local blow-molded bottle manufacturing plant. It paid 50 cents above minimum wage. For eight hours, I took boxes of empty freshly-made 2-liter plastic bottles and stacked them eight boxes high on pallets which were then shrink-wrapped for shipping. Even though the boxes weren’t heavy, I was dog-tired at the end of my shift. I lost over 25 pounds during the four months that I worked there.

  2. So if a job includes some physical aspect it’s less desireable? I think sitting behind a desk year after year could be just as physically damaging as working out of doors. It seems to me many men wish their jobs included more physical activity. My husband, a Wall Street dude, would agree. He spends most weekends outside doing chores or activities to make up for the deficit. Perhaps they should consider how many men suffer with weight, heart or other health issue becasue of physical inactivity.

    I assume that indoor jobs that require higher degrees would pay significantly more, making them desireable for that reason. And of course because they’re more mentally challenging.

  3. speedwell says:

    Well, on all personality tests, the questions don’t mean what they say. The employer is obviously not interested in hiring you as a circus performer (unless they are a circus, of course). My guess is that the “snake handler” enjoys dealing with difficult people and works well under stress, while the “trapeze artist” prefers to be left alone to excel independently.

    That said, the Scientology so-called personality test is a scam designed to make you fail. It literally cannot be passed, even with all the “correct” answers. It’s only a way for the handlers to make you look bad so you think you need their “services.”

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    Lumberjack as *least* desirable???

    But … lumberjacking is …

    Leaping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia! The Fir! The Larch! The Redwood! The mighty Scots Pine! The plucky little Aspen! The great limping rude tree of Nigeria! The smell of fresh-cut timber! The crash of mighty trees!

    *This* is the least desirable job?

    My, my, my …

    -Mark Roulo

  5. Like any of these lists, I think the outcomes are to be taken with a grain of salt. What might seem a “best job” to some might be a “worst job” for others. I have read a (possibly apocryphal) story of a man who scored immensely high on an IQ test, but chose to work as a grade-school janitor, because he felt any of the jobs he would be “expected” to do with such a high IQ would amount to exploitation.

    And every job has good parts and bad parts. The challenge lies in finding a job where the good parts outweigh the bad ones for you.

    As for the personality tests: the last year my parents taught, the state where they taught mandated an on-line ethics test, apparently to weed out the unethical people. My question was, if someone’s unethical, don’t they usually KNOW what the “ethical” position is on questions, and also have no compunction about lying on a test? (Ironically this was a test for employees of the State of Illinois. Apparently that same test is not administered to the politicians, or else they’ve figured out how to cheat on it…)

  6. Personality tests, at least those derived from the MMPI are purely statistically based. At some point a sample of individuals with defined characteristics were interviewed with the questions on the test, and their answers were analyzed looking for correlations to specific personality traits. So, for example, perhaps it was found that 80% of people who had been previously determined to be “hard working” answered “Yes” to the question “I would rather be a lion tamer than a snake handler.”

    The MMPI was, IIRC originally developed to look for psychotics and seriously disturbed behaviors, and the “normal” baseline was established by interviewing Minnesota State Troopers. These test were never intended to look at subtle personality characteristics and are pretty worthless, in my opinion.

    Note: The Meyers-Briggs is a different animal, and does look at the content of the questions. It’s worth is a different discussion. (Me, I’m an Enneagram guy, but I don’t think the multiple-choice tests do a good job of typing. It requires self-reflection and one-on-one interaction with a trained expert.)

  7. I think that cleaning public restrooms would be the worst job for me. The danger involved in being a lumberjack would be scary for me since I seem to be accident prone. Luckily, people do have different personalities and like to do different things. I recently took one of those personality tests and found that I also have a personality.:)

  8. Definite bias. My husband left a desk job to work a very physical job on the railway. He’s been a different person and ven on the most miserable days when he’s been shoveling for hours and numb from the cold he’s still happier then when he was in management.

    Physical labour may involve some more risks but it can also have rewards that website seems not to have accounted for.

    As a side note, I found cleaning restrooms fun. It’s satisfying to start with a bunch of crap and in 15 minutes have it all cleaned up. Different from say, management where you are NEVER free from crap.

  9. Of course, it doesn’t matter how desirable the job is if you won’t be able to get said job. They played up the positive aspects of those top jobs, but didn’t mention how difficult it is to get the required credentials, and the level of intellectual work you have to do. To many people, having to do math would be torture.

    I’m an actuary, and the actuarial career often makes these “top” lists. But they don’t note that there are very few actuaries (credentialled, that is) because you have to pass a series of around 10 very difficult tests (pass ratios go from about 20% – 50% per test) to get those credentials. You can get a relatively high salary for relatively reasonable hours, but most people are not interested in taking a series of exams on math, finance, and insurance.

  10. A fairly silly analysis, which seems to implicitly assume that “low stress” is a value that everyone shares. In reality, as several comments here have pointed out, individual preferences vary.

    Linda Niemann, after getting a PhD in English, took a job as a brakeman (very physical and sometimes dangerous work) with the Southern Pacific Railroad. In her memoir, she wrote:

    “We moved stuff people used to build their houses, get from place to place, and to put on their table. I felt a part of it all, whatever ‘it all’ was–something I had never felt before.”

  11. Michael Kovach says:

    Good job….Bad job…..who the heck cares, I’m just happy to have a job.
    …..did they incorporate that variable into the study?

  12. People have preferred levels of stress and perceived danger, which vary greatly between persons. If the job doesn’t meet those needs, they’ll find a way to arrange their lives to meet them – which accounts for bungee jumping and a whole lot of stupidity. Lumberjacking truly is too dangerous for most peoples’ nerves, but most of the other “dangerous” jobs are really less dangerous than regularly eating fast food. And the people who are really good at high-stress jobs love them.

    Nor is it sensible to give top “working environment” points to the jobs with no exercise and no fresh air. There still are a few jobs that involve more physical exertion than really is healthy, but not many of them.

  13. But…

    I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay. I sleep all night and I work all day. I like to press wild flowers. I put on women’s clothing and hang around in bars.