In choosing an occupation, people are driven, on the one hand, by a desire for self-expression, and on the other hand, by financial considerations. Ultimately, a stable income and good career prospects often take precedence over self-expression. A guaranteed salary is preferred over higher, but riskier returns from a business venture.
Since 1996, regular surveys have been conducted in Russia, asking ordinary people, 'In your opinion, which occupations enjoy the most respect in Russia today?' and 'Which occupations do you personally respect the most?'. The most recent such survey was held in 2011. In 2013 researchers asked Russians about preferred career paths for their children.
The 2011 survey showed that the most respected occupations in Russian society included lawyers and attorneys (according to 38% of all respondents), politicians (33%), entrepreneurs (26%), and doctors (24%). At the bottom of the list were engineers (11%), farmers (7%), and salespeople (6%).
The leading occupations have enjoyed consistently high rankings since 1996, but over the subsequent 15 years lawyers have swapped ranks with entrepreneurs – the latter were preferred by 46% of respondents in 1996, 50% in 1999, 29% in 2003, and 26% in 2011. "This may be due to the business environment," Fursov explains,“ie to whether current socio-economic conditions are favourable for business, and whether being an employee has good career prospects."
A major change occurred in the early 2000s. In the 1990s, entrepreneurship attracted many highly educated Russians, but then business opportunities diminished after 2000, while salaried jobs provided a steady, if smaller, income without all the risks of being a business owner. According to Polyakova, personal risk tolerance is an important factor, since many Russians are conservative and favour stability above everything else.
A substantial difference was found between respondents' personal attitudes towards certain occupations and their perception of society's attitudes towards the same careers. Responses to the question 'In your opinion, which occupations are most respected in Russia?' suggested that the top three careers included lawyers/attorneys, politicians, and entrepreneurs.
However, in response to the question 'What occupations do you personally respect the most?' people mentioned doctors (41%), teachers (37%), and skilled workers (14%), while attorneys/lawyers ranked ninth (14%), entrepreneurs ranked 10th (13%), politicians ranked 14th (5%), and salespeople came last (3%) on the list.
"Many factors influence people's opinions on the prestige of a certain occupation –ranging from its portrayal in the media to personal experience with members of this occupation; therefore, attitudes –personal and public – are different," notes Fursov.
Job security and a good income are the top considerations for most people asked about preferred career choices for their children. The top three occupations include those of lawyer/attorney (24%) and economist/finance expert/accountant (19%). Surprisingly, being a doctor ranks second on the list of preferred occupations for children (21%). As Polyakova points out, it reflects the importance of the medical profession and health care in people's everyday lives.
Very few respondents (3%) would want their children to pursue creative careers, to become a performer, author, or visual artist. Slightly more (6%) favour the careers of politician or athlete. The study's authors attribute this, on the one hand, to celebrity scandals publicized in the media, and on the other, to concerns about a higher level of uncertainty in creative careers compared to those of a lawyer or an accountant. According to the people who took part in the survey, the least desirable occupations for their children also included academic researcher, psychologist, marketing analyst, and public relations officer.
Konstantin Fursov: In terms of preferred career choices for their children, Russians (perhaps, only with the exception of Moscow) are unlikely to choose occupations which are crucial to a knowledge economy. Notably, attitudes towards an academic career vary considerably based on the perspective: while 19% of respondents report high personal respect for this career and 17% perceive it as a well-respected one in society, just 5% would consider it a desirable career for their children.
Valentina Polyakova: This applies to an even greater extent to the career of politician: 33% of respondents believe that politicians are respected in society, but only 6% would chose this career for their children and just 5% expressed personal respect for this occupation.