Occupational Prestige

Occupational PrestigeThe inclusion of prestige as part of interest assessment is not a new phenomenon but has gained increasing attention over the past few years. As a construct, prestige encompasses level of aspiration, level of training, preference for public recognition and esteem, desire for high income, occupational level, responsibility, and socioeconomic status. Prestige may also reflect an individual’s preference for a blue-collar versus professional lifestyle. Although prestige has been incorporated within several earlier models of occupational perceptions, it generally has not been incorporated within interest assessments.

Prestige has also played an important role in models of career development and occupational selection. Sex typing, that is, the societal view that certain careers are masculine or feminine, and prestige, together with interests, have been proposed to form a basis of occupational choice, with each being viewed as independent. However, research has demonstrated that such independence is not appropriate, supporting the collective examination of interests with prestige. When scales measuring prestige or status have been incorporated within interest assessments, these scales were supplementary rather than primary, and the link between prestige and occupational preference was not explicit. Research, however, has consistently indicated that people do rely on prestige in their evaluation of different occupations. Furthermore, prestige has also been shown to have more importance to individuals than the sex typing of occupations during career choice dilemmas.

One reason for the lack of incorporation of prestige within interest assessments (despite its theoretical and empirical history) is that prestige is often viewed as a part of values, and many researchers have sought to distinguish values from interests. Interest assessments are generally thought to be measuring aspects of a person’s identity, where interests refer to the relative liking and disliking of things. Values, however, refer to the relative importance of things to a person, with scales of this type being found within separate instruments. Yet the distinction between interests and values may be more a function of the scales designed to measure these constructs rather than any actual differences.

The predominant model of interest and vocational preference is Holland’s Hexagon, where six personality types, that is, Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional (RIASEC), are arranged in the shape of a hexagon. The different types provide information about the characteristics of individuals along with related occupations based on their type. Holland’s typology provides a convenient and meaningful way to present individual differences in interests. Although the field has focused much attention on the hexagon itself, research has distinguished two key features of Holland’s model: the circular ordering of the RIASEC scales and the two dimensions, or perpendicular x- and y-axes, that underlie Holland’s model. These dimensions account for the distribution of the types in a circular arrangement. The two dimensions are most often represented by data-ideas and people-things, and each type is an abstraction of the data formed by the underlying two dimensions. Occupations have also been mapped on this two-dimensional plane.

Through more fully assessing the content domain of interests, research has demonstrated the presence of an additional dimension to the two traditionally utilized, data-ideas and people-things. The addition of this dimension adds the relative prestige of occupations and is perpendicular to the plane formed by the two dimensions that underlie Holland’s types. The presence of this prestige dimension in interests has been found in occupational preference ratings but also in activity preferences.

Employing a three-dimensional model that has the data-ideas and people-things dimensions (x- and y-axes) combined with high-low prestige (z-axis) allows for more thorough assessment of interests. The three-dimensional model allows occupational preferences to be mapped on the three-dimensional coordinates (x-, y-, and z-axes) of a structure, for example, a sphere, thereby combining the RIASEC-type-based occupations with relative prestige ratings of occupations. Several structures that model interest data utilizing the above three dimensions have been researched. These are the cylinder, cone, and sphere. For the cylindrical structure, prestige needs do not affect interest preferences, that is, the same types lying on the x, y plane would be valid for high, moderate, and low prestige (the z axis). For the conical structure, prestige needs affect interest preferences only at one end of prestige, for example, high reliance on prestige at high levels, but increasingly equal prestige preference from the mid to opposite end of the cone. For the spherical structure, prestige needs differentially affect interest preferences at both ends of prestige, for example, the RIASEC types lie at the equator, that is, the plane defined by the x- and y- axes, with prestige (the z-axis) running from the north to south poles of the sphere.

Because it has been found that individuals with high or low needs for prestige generally do not differ as much in their occupational preferences relative to those with moderate needs for prestige, that is, individuals at either pole of the prestige dimension are less differentiated in their interest preferences relative to those at the equator, a sphere is the only structure that appears to account for the differential reliance on prestige during the evaluation of occupations. However, more research pursuing the integration of prestige with basic interests is needed.

As mentioned above, prestige is not a new construct. What is relatively new, however, is the incorporation of prestige within a model of interest and occupational preferences that explicitly measures and utilizes prestige to describe individual differences across three dimensions and translating this information into occupational preference in a manner that is utilizable to career counselors and their clients.

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  1. Dawis, R. V. 1991. “Vocational Interests, Values, and Preferences.” Pp. 833-872 in Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. 2d ed., vol. 2, edited by M. D. Dunnette and L. M. Hough. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
  2. Gottfredson, G. D. 1996. “Prestige in Vocational Interests.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 48:68-72.
  3. Gottfredson, L. S. 1980. “Construct Validity of Holland’s Occupational Typology in Terms of Prestige, Census, Department of Labor, and Other Classification Systems.” Journal of Applied Psychology 65:697-714.
  4. Tracey, T. J. G. 2002. “Personal Globe Inventory: Measurement of the Spherical Model of Interests and Competence Beliefs.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 60:113-172.
  5. Tracey, T. J. G. and Rounds, J. 1996. “The Spherical Representation of Vocational Interests.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 48:3-41.