Roy Morgan has released its annual Image Of Professions survey for 2010, where the public rate various professions on their perceived levels of honesty and ethical standards. To get the rankings, Roy Morgan asks the following question:

As I say different occupations, could you please say — from what you know or have heard – which rating best describes how you, yourself, would rate or score people in various occupations for honesty and ethical standards (Very High, High, Average, Low, Very Low)?

Morgan then tallies up the Very High and High responses and publishes that percentage for each occupation. This year’s rankings come in like this:


The usual suspects come in at both the top and the bottom, with Nurses, Pharmacists and Doctors gaining the largest proportion of high and very high responses – while Car Salesman, Advertising People, Estate Agents, Newspaper Journalists and Stock Brokers come in at the bottom. This survey came from a sample of 672 – around the sample size that this phone survey usually uses every year – giving us an MoE that maxes out around the 3.8% mark. The changes for each occupation since last year’s results were between + and – 4%, which statistically makes no significant change for any occupation over the last 12 months.

So instead, it might be worth having a look at more robust levels of change in the ethical and honesty perceptions of various occupations over longer periods of time.

If we take the average of the results for the 2009-2010 surveys as our current baseline, we can compare it to the average of the 1999-2000 results, the 1989-1990 results and the 1979-1981 results (1981 because no survey was taken in 1980). This will give us an estimate of how honesty and integrity perceptions have changed for various professions over a 10, 20 and 30 year period. Running through the results, we get:




On the professions that have pretty much tanked in the honesty and ethics perception department, Bank Managers over the long terms and Ministers of Religion over the short term lead the way. Looking at the time series of these two, it tells it’s own story:


Minister of Religion was only added as an occupation to the survey in 1996 – but it would have been interesting to know whether their fall was mostly driven by the world wide child abuse scandals that exploded in the 1990’s, or whether their fall was actually more representative of some perception of institutional decline that may have been in operation for period going farther back than 1996.

Bank Managers are another interesting movement, where their decline in perceived honesty and ethical standards pretty much matched the decline in actual power of bank managers. Back before the financial deregulation of the 1980’s, bank managers were a very powerful figure in most local communities – where a very large proportion of all home loans and personal loans approved by a bank required the personal approval of the local bank manager.

As new financial institutions flooded Australia and added competition to the broad domestic loans market, the loans approval mechanism for the sector as a whole became more reliant on a statistical approach to risk management and the ability of the customer to pay, and much less reliant on the personal whimsy and cultural baggage of a given bank manager.

It’s often not appreciated just how dramatically this changed Australia. As a result of moving to a more robust mechanism for loan approval, we saw a large growth in home and business loans to females – particularly single parent females – as well as young people. Meritocracy replaced cultural orthodoxy to a large extent when it came to the domestic credit market. So it’s interesting to see how the honesty and ethical standards perceptions of bank managers effectively collapsed as their actual power collapsed.

On the upside of the ratings, School Teachers and Doctors have experienced the largest long term growth, pretty much moving together.


I suppose this begs the question of why school teachers and doctors had such mediocre ratings back in the late 1970’s, as well as why those perceptions have been consistently improving – especially in the 20 year period between 1980 and 2000?