Visualizing Stress vs. Salary for 600+ Occupations

4 min read

Most people would love to earn a high income at a low-stress job. Unfortunately, most jobs that pay high incomes are also associated with high stress. Some classic examples include CEOs, managers, and investment bankers. Individuals in these occupations earn above-average incomes, but they also incur above-average stress.

Conversely, most jobs that are low-stress tend to be low-paying as well. Some examples include landscapers, travel agents, and artists. 

However, some jobs offer unicorn work situations – high pay with low stress. Some examples include mathematicians, statisticians, and physicists. Each of these occupations offer high incomes with fairly low stress.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Researchers at O*NET, the nation’s primary source of occupational information, created a unique scale that classifies the stress level of over 600 occupations on a scale of 0 to 100.

By combining these stress scores with salary data provided by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can create a scatterplot to get an idea of how stress levels compare with median salaries for over 600 occupations:

Note: Each circle represents a unique occupation. This plot is interactive, so hover over a particular circle to reveal the occupation, stress score, and median salary. On mobile, click on individual circles to reveal the occupation, stress score, and median salary.

We can see that, in general, higher paying jobs are associated with higher stress scores. However, there are plenty of high-paying jobs with low stress, and even low-paying jobs with high stress.

High-Paying, High-Stress Jobs

The six highest paying occupations clustered together in the top right corner of the graph all have stress scores of 88 or higher:

Occupation Median Salary Stress Score
Family & General Practitioners $201,094 88
Practitioners of Internal Medicine $194,501 94
Chief Executives $189,592 94
Prosthodontists $176,550 92
Pediatricians $170,560 88
Nurse Anesthetists $167,960 98

Low-Paying, Low-Stress Jobs

Conversely, the bottom left corner of the graph shows the lowest stress jobs, which all have stress scores of 41 or lower:

Occupation Median Salary Stress Score
Models $23,774 24
Couriers and Messengers $28,725 37
Hand Cutters and Trimmers $29,390 41

High-Paying, Low-Stress Jobs

The occupations in the bottom right portion of the graph are the unicorns – high paying jobs with fairly low stress scores. A few of these include:

Occupation Median Salary Stress Score
Physicists $120,952 61
Computer and Information Research Scientists $118,373 66
Computer Hardware Engineers $114,608 67
Astronomers $105,685 62
Chemical Engineers $104,915 61
Software Developers $103,636 61
Mathematicians $101,899 57
Materials Scientists $99,798 53

It’s interesting to note that each of these occupations is in the STEM field and involves knowledge in math, science, and computers.

Low-Paying, High-Stress Jobs

Lastly, the occupations in the top left corner are perhaps some of the most undesirable because they entail low pay, with high stress. Some of these include:

Occupation Median Salary Stress Score
Animal Control Workers $36,338 92
Rehab Counselors $35,630 89
Phlebotomists $34,486 90
Social and Human Service Assistants $33,738 89
Psychiatric Aides $29,182 93
Vet Assistants $27,539 92

Many of these occupations include working with animals or people in need, which sadly are jobs that are important and need to be done, but are associated with high stress and low pay.

Explore Further

Feel free to further explore the scatterplot above to see how different occupations stack up in terms of stress and salary. Keep in mind that the graph is interactive, so feel free to zoom in on certain areas and hover over individual circles to get a better look at the data.

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