Dishonesty Doesn't Pay


Why be dishonest when you'd make just as much money in an honest job?

Who'd be a realtor? Realtors are known for dishonesty. Why not be a nurse instead? Nurses are considered to be highly honest. Why would anyone choose to be mistrusted rather than trusted?

I figured it must come down to money. Dishonest jobs, I reckoned, must pay a premium over honest jobs. Otherwise there'd be no reason to be a realtor rather than a nurse.

It turns out I was wrong. This chart plots income against honesty for a variety of jobs, each represeneted by an eye. It shows that dishonest jobs pay no more than honest jobs; if anything, they pay a little less.

Of course, it's difficult to quantify either income or honesty, so it's difficult to be conclusive.

The chart's vertical axis represents how much each job pays. However, this is the median income in the US across all practitioners of the job, and reflects only salary. It does not include expenses, such as the time and money nurses must invest to qualify; nor does it include non-monetary compensation, such as the satisfaction nurses may feel in helping patients.

The chart's horizontal axis represents how honest practitioners of each job are, from the devilishly dishonest on the left to the angelically honest on the right. There's no point asking realtors or nurses how honest they are, of course, since they would all, no doubt, claim to be scrupulously honest. Instead, I have resorted to surveys which ask the public to rate the honesty and ethics of practitioners of each job, and reveal the percentage who respond high or very high.

So I can hardly claim scientific rigour.

Nonetheless, the message of this chart, however tentative, is an unexpectedly positive one. Whether we're talking highly paid executives/doctors, or more modestly paid realtors/nurses, you won't be compensated any more for dishonesty than for honesty. Perhaps if we'd known this when we started out, we'd all have chosen honest jobs.

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U.S. Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Employment Statistics – May 2011 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States

Gallup – Honesty/Ethics in Professions 2010 – US poll November 19-21, 2010 – Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields - very high, high, average, low, or very low? – percentage responding high or very high

Roy Morgan Research – Image of Professions Survey 2011 – Australian poll March 22-24, 2011 – 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)? – percentage responding high or very high

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes excellent salary data for different professions in the US; unfortunately, the Gallup survey in the US covers only a very limited number of jobs. To create a larger data set, I have taken the Roy Morgan Research survey in Australia, which asks more or less the same question about honesty and ethics for a wider range of professions, normalised this Australian data to match the US data, and combined the results, taking the average of the US and normalised Australian values where both are available.


A summary of the data used in this presentation is shown below for easy reference


Advertising agents – Advertising Sales Agents, Advertising and Promotions Managers – $61,680

Bankers – Financial Managers – $103,910

Executives – Chief Executives – $165,080

Clergy – Clergy – $43,970

Pharmacists – Pharmacists – $111,570

Lawyers – Lawyers – $112,760

Doctors – Family and General Practitioners – $163,510

Nurses – Registered Nurses – $64,690

Police – Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers – $53,540

Auto mechanics – Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics – $35,790

Childcare – Childcare Workers – $19,300

Teachers – Elementary School Teachers, Middle School Teachers, Secondary School Teachers – $52,280

Judges – Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates – $119,270

Reporters – Reporters and Correspondents – $34,530

Dentists – Dentists, General – $141,040

Engineers – all categories of engineers – $85,500

Lecturers – all categories of post-secondary teachers – $67,170

Accountants – Accountants and Auditors – $61,690

Financial planners – Personal Financial Advisors – $64,750

Stock brokers – Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents – $70,190

Insurance brokers – Insurance Underwriters, Insurance Sales Agents – $52,660

Realtors – Real Estate Brokers, Real Estate Sales Agents – $46,880


Advertising agents – US 11% – Australia 5% (normalised 5%) → 8%

Bankers – US 23% – Australia 40% (normalised 36%) → 30%

Executives – US 15% – Australia 18% (normalised 16%) → 16%

Clergy – US 53% – Australia 51% (normalised 46%) → 50%

Pharmacists – US 71% – Australia 87% (normalised 78%) → 75%

Lawyers – US 17% – Australia 38% (normalised 34%) → 26%

Doctors – US 66% – Australia 87% (normalised 78%) → 72%

Nurses – US 81% – Australia 90% (normalised 81%) → 81%

Police – US 57% – Australia 69% (normalised 62%) → 60%

Auto mechanics – US 28% → 28%

Childcare – US 47% → 47%

Teachers – US 67% – Australia 76% (normalised 68%) → 68%

Judges – US 47% – Australia 75% (normalised 68%) → 58%

Reporters – US 22-23% – Australia 11-14% (normalised 10-13%) → 16-18%

Dentists – Australia 76% (normalised 68%) → 68%

Engineers – Australia 71% (normalised 64%) → 64%

Lecturers – Australia 61% (normalised 55%) → 55%

Accountants – Australia 54% (normalised 49%) → 49%

Financial planners – Australia 28% (normalised 25%) → 25%

Stock brokers – Australia 14% (normalised 13%) → 13%

Insurance brokers – Australia 12% (normalised 11%) → 11%

Realtors – Australia 7% (normalised 6%) → 6%


First published 1 November 2012

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