The prestige of professions in Switzerland: doctors at the top, the unqualified at the bottom


In the 33rd issue of the series Social Change in Switzerland, Dominique Joye and colleagues report the results of a new survey that asks the Swiss to rate the prestige of a range of professions. While doctors and business leaders are at the top of the list, cleaning staff and factory workers are relegated to the bottom.

In a survey conducted in 2019, more than 1,500 individuals rated a set of professions according to their prestige. In this hierarchy of professions in Switzerland, the highest prestige scores are given to doctors, university professors, managers, airline pilots and judges. At the other end of the hierarchy are cleaning, packaging and kitchen help, but also factory workers and shop cashiers.

The authors compare the Swiss prestige scale with an international scale and observe a strong correlation, thus rejecting the idea of a Swiss Sonderfall - with two exceptions: in Switzerland, technical and care occupations, which are the result of vocational training, have a higher prestige than internationally. On the other hand, white-collar occupations such as salespersons, secretaries and office workers are less highly regarded in Switzerland than internationally.

The two main factors explaining why a profession is perceived as prestigious are education and income, while the proportion of women or migrants in a profession does not seem to affect its prestige. Similarly, the evaluation of prestige hardly varies depending on whether the respondents are offered a female occupation (saleswoman) or a male occupation (salesman). The only exceptions are a few typically female occupations such as beautician or midwife, where the female version is more prestigious, and a few typically male occupations such as firefighter or carpenter, where the male version prevails. 

The authors conclude that, insofar as perceptions of prestige are widely shared in the population, they have a normative character that is likely to guide young people's career choices.

>> Joye, D., Lemel, Y., & Wolf, C. (2023). Le prestige des professions en Suisse. Social Change in Switzerland, N°33,


The series Social Change in Switzerland continuously documents the evolution of the social structure in Switzerland. It is published jointly by the Swiss Competence Centre for Social Sciences FORS and the LIVES Centre - The Swiss Competence Centre for Research on Life Courses and Vulnerabilities. The aim is to trace changes in employment, family, income, mobility, voting or gender in Switzerland. Based on state-of-the-art empirical research, it is aimed at a wider audience than just specialists.