In the Loop

The wrong thing to ask at cocktail parties

Posted at 4:41 PM on February 28, 2007 by Sanden Totten (4 Comments)

Has this ever happened to you? You're at a party. You're being introduced to someone new, maybe someone attractive. You want to make a good impression. So when the question of what you do comes up, you freeze.

We'd all like to think that what we do for a paycheck has no bearing on how we perceive ourselves as people, but let's get real. When I worked as a costumed mascot for an ice cream parlor one summer I would strategically avoid the job question by a) making a joke b) pretending to be unemployed or c) conveniently spilling my drink and leaving for paper towels.

Sadly though, it looks like the prestige of most jobs across the board have been steadily declining for the last 3 decades. According to an article from USA today, only a few jobs are still seen as "very prestigious" by most Americans. Doctors and scientists are the top two but both have gone down in public opinion since 1977. Surprisingly, stockbroker, actor and lawyer were all at the bottom of the list. I guess the good news is that prestige and paycheck have little to do with each other. Unfortunately for my colleagues here at MPR, journalist was scraping the bottom too.

But it does matter what others think, especially when it comes to job satisfaction. Take teachers for example. A study from The Harris Poll showed that teaching was one of the rare careers to go up in prestige over the years, from 27% of us assigning it great prestige in 1977 to 48% in 2004. Job satisfaction for teachers went up during roughly the same period from 40 to 57%. But if most careers are losing prestige, does this mean we're all doomed to feel worse about what we do?

This makes me think I'm not the only one who at times has dreaded the job question. You may soon only hear a few cocky folks introducing themselves with their occupations at parties. The rest of us will be awkwardly spilling beverages down the front of our pants whenever the question comes up.


Comments (4)

Hmm. It really affects how people see their own field? What is up with that?

Then again I don't get the whole concept of job-snobbery. Who really cares?

If you meet someone at a party whose career lands on that "very prestigious" jobs list but they're not engaged in their field, well that's just boring of them. I'd much rather talk to someone who loves their job no matter what it is.


BTW Sanden, when I saw this I had a vague etymology reference/memory flash. Didn't prestige / prestigious begin with a meaning along the lines of positioning presentation or presenting illusion? Just a delicious little thought.

Posted by Julia Schrenkler | March 1, 2007 8:36 AM


I would love to meet a costumed mascot at a party. I think it would make for a very interesting conversation!

Posted by Colleen | March 1, 2007 10:51 AM


Well then . . . what are you doing this Saturday? Wanna come to a party with me?\
Just Kidding.

But actually, I think you are right. I had better stories from being dressed as a giant cow than I did from my summer as a law intern. I was paid better too.

Posted by Sanden | March 1, 2007 12:01 PM


I wonder where "Magician" falls in USA today's ranking.

Posted by Rob | March 2, 2007 10:49 AM


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