Prestige Around the World

Have been working around the world with a major oil multinational the past year and just wanted to spark a discussion on this forum's favorite and overused topic: prestige. In particular, what is considered a "prestigious" profession around the world by the general public.
Usually prestige boils down to this:
Barriers to entry + average remuneration + perceived societal impact
Without further ado, here is my list:

  1. Medical doctor. This is universally the number 1. While certain markets might have another profession at the top, medical doctor is always in the top 3 and is widely recognizable by the entire population. No other profession in the world will pay you this much for something seen as "charitable/being a good person"

  2. Engineer. This might prove controversial, but the world mostly consists of third world/emerging countries that are fleshing out their infrastucture/building their country - and engineer is what is pushed by parents as it's consistently one of the best majors for employment. Getting into engineering schools is very tough. Makes sense though, when you're living in a country with 50% unemployment, a major that's as close to a sure-fire bet as possible is very prestigious. In Nigeria rich parents would bribe engineering schools to let their kids in. In Algeria half of the engineering class was full of sons of the ruling civil servants.
    It's different in a lot of the West, but engineer still enjoys a solid prestige status - especially in France (where they mostlycome from the "grandes ecoles" - CEO of Credit Suisse is a french engineer), and Germany (a country that really values engineering). Biggest outlier is in the UK, where engineer has next to no prestige. But that's because there are no barriers to entry in GB & "engineer" is applied to your average tradesman.

  3. Lawyer. In the west, this is closer to #2. However, in many countries aorund the world, the justice system is a farce, which reduces the value of lawyers since whoever has the most money or is more connected wins by default

  4. Military Officer. Interchangeable with lawyer.

Finance did not crack the top 4. Why? Most countries do not have a developed high finance system & finance is limited to accountants. However, in the countries that do, high financiers are usually in the top in terms of prestige - and in specialized finance cities like NY/London/Hong Kong, high financiers are at the top of the prestige food chain. Just not enough of that worldwide to rank it in the top 4. Same thing with Tech - they're kings in San Francisco, but most countries don't have as elaborate of a tech hub.

WSO Elite Modeling Package

  • 6 courses to mastery: Excel, Financial Statement, LBO, M&A, Valuation and DCF
  • Elite instructors from top BB investment banks and private equity megafunds
  • Includes Company DB + Video Library Access (1 year)

Comments (73)

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Oct 24, 2019 - 9:16am

Should be an interesting thread. Saving a spot
Interesting analysis though, I agree although I think military should be higher than lawyer

Oct 24, 2019 - 9:32am

Who cares what poor people think? Yes they need medicine, but don't you think they would see how much better it is to have a stable financial system once they actually see it? There are tons of international peeps going into finance once they come to the US and UK just because they are exposed to it. That is true prestige...just gotta get a glimpse from inside the ivory tower.

  • 7
  • 2
Oct 28, 2019 - 2:59pm

Who cares what poor people think? Yes they need medicine, but don't you think they would see how much better it is to have a stable financial system once they actually see it? There are tons of international peeps going into finance once they come to the US and UK just because they are exposed to it. That is true prestige...just gotta get a glimpse from inside the ivory tower.

America has THE "stable financials system" of all history and even they don't see "how much better it is".

Learn More

300+ video lessons across 6 modeling courses taught by elite practitioners at the top investment banks and private equity funds -- Excel Modeling -- Financial Statement Modeling -- M&A Modeling -- LBO Modeling -- DCF and Valuation Modeling -- ALL INCLUDED + 2 Huge Bonuses.

Learn more
Oct 28, 2019 - 3:09pm

The reality is this entire list is written from an elitist point of view to begin with. From the perspective of the third world countries (read: poor people), a medical doctor is the profession that lifts the most people out of poverty, then once that gets going, of course its infrastructure and the guys that produce order in a civilized society (engineers, lawyers, etc.). Once you really get developed and have a true economic engine going, you start to look at business leaders and financiers as the true providers of personal advancement. There is a reason we look at peeps like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and large corporations as proof of American leadership in the world and not MD Anderson Cancer Hospital. In Pakistan, peeps flock to the cheapest doctor in town even though his syringes are AIDS and hes still the next greatest thing to them. Let's be real, people all naturally want to do what is right in general, and look at ways to gain praise (prestige). There is only so much a doctor can do in the most advanced societies because his scope is so many surgeries can you do in a day? And if you are that smart and can save so many people what do you do? You start a company and rely on the financing and expertise of people around you to grow your business in the most effective way. But you still need finance to get there to get there. That is why finance is prestigious. You just need to view it from a local perspective, not from a pre-established hierarchy of prestige. Good day.

  • 2
Most Helpful
Oct 24, 2019 - 10:08am

Want to know what's better than prestige? More money.

  • 32
  • 2
Oct 24, 2019 - 10:15am

This is actually a rather interesting topic given how much "prestige" is thought of around these points in relation to finance.

Growing up in suburban America, Doctor and Lawyer were clear favorites in the prestige category. Everyone wanted their son or daughter to become one of these two. If the kid showed science/math aptitude, doctor it is. Reading/writing focused instead? Lawyer.

I agree with OP that Engineer was in Tier 1b or Tier 2 and I would put Architect in there as well.

Banking, or "business" would have been the third tier, as I had friends whose fathers were bank presidents and they were thought of as very "successful" - but these are community retail banks - definitely not wall street or investment banking. Professors or university administrators would be in this category as well, as I grew up in a university town.

Essentially, that was the 1990's suburban prestige chart, and I'm sure for a lot of middle class Americans, it is still pretty similar.

Commercial Real Estate Developer

  • 5
Oct 25, 2019 - 9:46am

Growing up in a suburban/rural area, you don't have enough exposure to understand. Not to mention if your parents are immigrants and didn't go to college, there's a zero percent chance that people will figure out what and value jobs out there other than doctor/lawyer/engineer. You really don't know what you don't know.

Anecdotal, but I have a buddy that's in medical school with the son of an ethnic fast-casual chain owner in the DC area. That chain has 20+ franchises, and i'm sure the family is much happier to see him get an MD rather than the possible 2MM+ net the family rakes in a year.

  • Associate 1 in IB - PubFin
Oct 25, 2019 - 10:38am

Thanks for that anecdote, it matches some of the ones I've seen. Know someone with a net worth of about 10 mm. Never went to school. Kid graduated U.Mich with an aerospace engineering degree and they said it was the proudest moment of their life and bragged about it on facebook for at least 3 days

Oct 25, 2019 - 7:08pm

Especially since they work barely more than 9-5, they are on the golf course constantly with clients, they have very generous expense accounts and the bank pays for their country club membership. They usually get generous stock compensation in a bank that is often privately held, so when the bank sells, the bank President can sell their shares for a substantial amount and retire very comfortably or continue in a senior position in the new organization if he wants. This was what I observed personally. In addition, there can be other benefits like when our local bank President was offered the use of the local D1 university's brand new stadium for a company flag football game because he knows the athletic director, and the bank hires heavily from the school.

Oct 24, 2019 - 10:28am

Good topic OP.
I agree with your rankings. I wonder how it's going to all change as AI might make some of the professions moot. I think the world will always need financiers (bar S&T, who I think will be automated out son), but some medical specialities might not exist, just like some aspects of law. I also think pilots - at least in certain parts of the world, should be somewhere in your hierachy (even if they will probably get automated out too.

Edit: I did a google search on this and the most "respected" professions in the world by the WTO were Doctor/Lawyer/Engineer - good observations OP

Oct 24, 2019 - 6:31pm

I agree. Know a guy who owns 15 sandwich shops (Jimmy Johns/ Jersey Mikes/ Firehouse Subs) and he pulls in damn good income. But I bet people wouldn't see that as prestigious. He can laugh all the way to the bank, but that's not the topic at hand.

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” - Nassim Taleb
Oct 24, 2019 - 6:08pm

I have a weird one to throw in- where would you put Religious Leadership? If we're taking developing worlds into account, religious leader/shaman/whatever is usually on par with village leadership, and remains throughout until the culture turns more towards atheism. Though I suppose religion is just part of the old role that was doctor/psychologist/spiritual leader.

As another rambling-

I think the major prestige drain from otherwise highly prestigious fields is a function of people wanting more prestige- Hierarchies.

Since doctors typically work on small scales (can only have so many patients) and have a much flatter hierarchy (super doctors usually don't go on to start hospital chains or expand their business other than referrals/clients), they don't suffer from the internal structures that hit the finance industry. It leads to the classic freakanomics with drug dealers and beauty pageants- there are only a few on top who get all the prestige, where all the others work to build the prestige of the top person.

Oct 25, 2019 - 7:34am

Well, if you´re a Roman Catholic Pastor and can hold your community with good sermons and attractive events, people will inevitably trust you. And if you´re really good with people, you might end up as the local counselor, which might not be very prestigious for WSO, but if I could name only one person in my youth I considered wise, it was my Pastor.
So a priest can absolutely have a bigger and better impact than an investment banker has.

  • Associate 1 in IB - PubFin
Oct 25, 2019 - 10:41am

Agree, but religion is regressing and the pedophilic scnadals etc..have delivered a big hit on their image

Oct 25, 2019 - 10:40am

I considered religious leadership. The only problem is that many have a visceral hate for religious leaders, which somewhat reduces their overall prestige factor - I don't know anyone who has a visceral hate for doctors or engineers
I agree that the pope is probably the most "prestige" profession, all things considered

Oct 25, 2019 - 6:24am

If you care about prestige, the only thing you should really worry about is becoming a leader (caring about prestige is obviously a good indication of being a bad leader).

Being a doctor is prestigious because you're often a type leader of your own community of people from all layers of society. During capitalist and globalist times, being in finance will be regarded as more prestigious. During wartime, being a military commander will be regarded as more prestigious.

Whatever the circumstances, there's always one constant: you're a leader of a certain tribe. Showing grace under pressure, making wise decisions, being empathetic. That's prestige.

  • Associate 1 in IB - PubFin
Oct 25, 2019 - 10:42am

I don't agree with your second statement, because most major leaders were obsessed with prestige. From Alexander to Caesar to JFK etc...they were all obsessed with growing their prestige
I do agree that ultimately leaderhsip positions confer prestige

Oct 25, 2019 - 12:46pm
Associate 1 in IB - PubFin:

I don't agree with your second statement, because most major leaders were obsessed with prestige. From Alexander to Caesar to JFK etc...they were all obsessed with growing their prestige
I do agree that ultimately leaderhsip positions confer prestige

No they were not. They were obsessed with power for its ability to impact change and influence and understood that public perception is an important variable in this pursuit.


Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad.
  • 1
Oct 25, 2019 - 7:29am

I'm from Scandinavia, over here medical school and becoming a MD is pretty much the pinnacle of prestige - and it's understandable. Only the very best students get into medical school, and you really need to work your ass off from early age. We have quite the unforgiving grading and selection process, where your grades count 100% - no interviews, motivational letters, extracurriculars, etc. it all boils down to your high-school grades, and there's a finite amount of slots; So the decimal points really do count.

With that said, bankers do earn more than the average "prestige" professions (law, medicine, engineering), but it's still not perceived as being prestigious. Sure, it's prestigious among bankers and business people, but not to the public.

  • Associate 1 in IB - PubFin
Oct 25, 2019 - 10:46am

I found that hierarchy:
MD (top by far)
then a mix of engineering/law etc as the next tiers to be true across many European countries. It's interesting to see your explanation why. I worked with a canadian engineer from Montreal, Quebec that let me know that know Quebec Canada has a strict cutout out of a weird prep thing they do after high school that goes:
1-top grades = med
2- next grades = engineering
3- next = whatever

I'd be curious to see if scandinavian countries have something similar

Oct 25, 2019 - 11:08am

That's often the case in education systems where education is fairly cheap. You often get classified more in terms of what you're studying rather than at which university you're studying. It's the same in my European country although engineering is definitely #1 here.

Oct 25, 2019 - 2:58pm

The thing with medical school here, is that it's so hard to get into, that a lot of top students just automatically apply if they know they have a real chance.

I've seen it so, so many times - med. students get asked why they applied for med school, and the answers are either "I want to help people, and find the body fascinating" or "Well I did well in school, and people told me to apply for med school with my grades, not to waste them".

Med school here is what Harvard / Yale / Princeton is in the US, or Oxbridge in UK.

I'd say that around 70% of the most selective studies here in Norway are either medicine, dental school, professional psychology (basically med. school version of psychology - i.e if you want to become a practicing psychiatric), or similar. Then remainding slots are usually the most prestigious Engineering schools, and maybe Econ at our leading Business School. (The school that feeds people to domestic high-finance, or City and Wall Street).

So, here it is

1 = Med school, by a wide margin - with dental etc. trailing right behind.

2 = Top Engineering programs, top law programs

3 = Top business / econ programs, various STEM programs that follow the current flavor.

Oct 25, 2019 - 12:09pm

@Dumpster Fire Yuppie" I think has the key point - you can only really relate to what you know/have exposure to. Within the average middle class family's social circle there is a probably a handful of doctors/lawyers/engineers because basically every region of the U.S. has those jobs locally. The average person sees these jobs as well-paying and associates the people who work them as being well-educated and smart.

Growing up in the suburbs as well (not near a major finance center), I had never met an investment banker, a management consultant, etc. so if for the first 20 years of life someone had asked me what was the most prestigious job, I would have said something like OPs initial list.

Having attended a top university though, it becomes clear there is an additional hierarchy on top of the general populations. Within the tip of the bell curve the jobs people talk about here (IB, mgmt. consulting, FAANG, etc.) are another notch above. Even within these categories like 'lawyer' there is a big difference between local trial lawyer and corporate M&A lawyer at Skadden. Same with engineering, big difference between being a local civil engineer at a small firm vs. working at Facebook.

The general population doesn't know these differences though and thus if your searching for 'global' prestige you will likely never will find it.

Oct 25, 2019 - 12:10pm

Even if the ranking is right, why would anyone care about prestige in Africa or India?

I'm sure Somalians love doctors, but IMO not even finance people care about prestige nowadays. It's all about the $.

No doctor is going to join Bezos, Ken Griffin, or Buffett on the F400 list with broke public hospitals signing their checks every month.

Oct 25, 2019 - 12:44pm

Who caaaaares, man? Why are you talking about prestige? This is so so boring. Go watch Doug Demuro tell you why you should trade in your Kia for an old Plymouth instead.


Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad.
Oct 25, 2019 - 12:52pm

Do people enjoying being lawyers? For the most part, no.
Do we love our children? For the most part, yes.
Are there rules to this life? No
Is our time on this earth finite? Yes
Does doctoring and lawyering take up considerable amounts of this finite free time? Yes
So I, as a parent who loves his kids, am going to hope for them to spend the majority of their finite time on this earth doing shit they don't want to do? So that I can low-key brag to my peers about how my son followed the conventional and inefficient path to moderate material success? I must have very little faith in my child's ability to craft his own life in this world. I must have been living under a rock. I must not know how much amazingness is out in the world to explore. Why else would I wish for my child to spend his life drafting legal docs when the opportunity cost is so astronomical?


Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad.
  • 6
  • 1
Oct 25, 2019 - 3:32pm

Which is why I think CRE ppl largely have it figured it. They all love CRE and don't work the hours of IBD/Consulting and make good money (all things considered).

Also I think this forum has a distorted view on how much is considered good money.

Oct 25, 2019 - 4:01pm
God Emperor Doom:

Also I think this forum has a distorted view on how much is considered good money.

Who doesn't, right?

Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad.
Oct 25, 2019 - 1:18pm

Interesting analysis. Here's my $0.02 -

If you think about the countries that appear to not have 'high finance' sectors you have to consider a few things.

  1. There is always someone/some co. in those countries making a fuck ton of money from financing deals. Think about even basic infrastructure, real estate, industrials etc. Someone is making bank roll, they just operate under the radar/don't want the publicity.

  2. There's usually some sort of corruption going on hence the lack of publicity/spotlight seeking financiers.

  3. These people don't seek 'prestige' in the same sense that a lot of wso user do. These are the types of people that don't care for prestige, they care for respect/power. They ride through town knowing they could buy anything/anyone. They're the people that everyone knows not to fuck with because all it would take is one phone call for them to be offed.

High finance in these countries aren't about prestige/spotlight/titles, it's all about power and $.


"Out the garage is how you end up in charge It's how you end up in penthouses, end up in cars, it's how you Start off a curb servin', end up a boss"
  • 2
Oct 26, 2019 - 3:41am

I know this thread is about prestigious professions, but I think higher education is the root of the greatest amount of prestige. If you studied at a top university, or even a university, you have some prestige or status attached to your name no matter where you go.

Even in this country, among laymen, you get more prestige, and praise, for attending a top school than for just about any profession. Becoming a doctor or lawyer is pretty run-of-the-mill, and the jobs that are coveted on this site aren't even in the average person's consciousness.

  • Associate 2 in CorpDev
Oct 26, 2019 - 1:20pm

What about prestige among women outside office jobs - are Victoria Secret models the most prestigious?

Oct 28, 2019 - 3:16pm

Speaking form a 2nd tier EU country (no UK, France, Germany): here you have Doctor >>> Engineer >>> everything else. The mentality here is ridiculous, I personally heard doctors say that they were proud to be physicians because "when people meet you in the town square they treat you differently". And this sentence was supposed to push me towards medicine. Most people here don't even know what Mgmt consulting or Finance are. Let alone quant finance (I had people with masters in economics ask me what contribute can a stem bsc like me bring to finance). I remember when I told people that I wanted to study maths/physics instead of medicine they were all like "Oh, so you want to be a teacher?". I really envy the mentality of places liek the UK and the US where the focus is much more on which university you attend versus what you major in (e.g. If you study physics in my country you are considered a loser, in the UK a physics degree from Imperial is one of the most employable in finance or consulting).

Oct 28, 2019 - 9:06pm

From someone pushed the doctor route, you better genuinely love the career or you will fail. Say goodbye to your 20s, nothing but studying hard for no pay until you finally make it.

Start Discussion

Total Avg Compensation

July 2021 Investment Banking

  • Director/MD (9) $911
  • Vice President (36) $363
  • Associates (209) $232
  • 2nd Year Analyst (120) $152
  • 3rd+ Year Analyst (28) $146
  • Intern/Summer Associate (101) $144
  • 1st Year Analyst (444) $133
  • Intern/Summer Analyst (357) $82