Jealous of what everyone else earns? Don't be

We overestimate how much everyone else is earning - and it could lead us astray

How much does a plumber earn?

There's a good reason why we're jealous of what everyone else is earning - because we wildly over-estimate how much various professions are paid. A new study has found that we over-estimate salaries for some professions by almost a third, and as a result, we under-estimate the joy of our own pay packet. It means we risk changing careers in the hope of riches that never materialise.

See also: Pay boost for Lush workers after firm agrees to extend Living Wage

See also: Calls to end 'pay pinch' with public sector workers feeling squeeze

See also: Self-employed older workers 'take financial hit but have better life quality'


The study, by Oxford Open Learning, found the biggest discrepancy in what we think journalists are paid - compared to what they actually make. We assume they have an average salary of £30,000 - when in fact it's just £23,500 - 28% less. The next most over-estimated income is for plumbers, who we guess earn £30,000 - but who make £24,746.

Top five worst guesses
Journalist - we estimate £30,000 but they earn £23,500 - 28% less
Plumber - we estimate £30,000 but they earn £24,746 - 21% less
Solicitor - we estimate £60,000 but they earn £50,000 - 20% less
Hairdresser - we estimate £18,000 but they earn £15,473 - 16% less
Retail assistant - we estimate £15,000 but they earn £13,122 - 14% less

We get it wrong for lower paid professions - including florists, who make £15,926 (we guess £18,000). However, we get it just as wrong for very well paid jobs like Chief Executives, who earn £94,884 (we guess £100,000).

There are also a handful of professions for whom we underestimate the pay - and therefore the attractions of the job. They are:

Head of secondary state school - we estimate £50,000 but they earn £76,192 - 34% more
Train driver (not including London Underground) - we estimate £32,000 but they earn £47,000 - 32% more
HR manager - we estimate £35,000 but they earn £38,127 - 8% more
MP - we estimate £70,000 but they earn £74,962 - 7% more
NHS GP - we estimate £65,000 but they earn £69,514 - 6% more

Terrible mistake

And while the results are something of an eye-opener (who knew that train drivers were twice as valuable as nurses? Or that GPs make more than twice as much as teachers?), it also demonstrates the horrible mistakes we might be making when we weigh up a career change.

Career changes have never been so popular. According to a study by the Co-op, by the time we reach the age of 50, more than half of us have had at least three careers, and as many as 16% of workers have switched occupations after turning 45.

In many cases it's a matter of choice - and tailoring our career to our lifestyle. In an enormous number of cases, a career change is more a matter of necessity, as industries and jobs die away, and new areas spring up in their place.

When we are weighing up a new career, it's essential that we have realistic expectations of what we are getting into. Dr Nick Smith, Courses Director and founder of Oxford Open Learning Trust, said: "Among British workers, over half (52%) said that salary was an important factor when they chose their current job role. When it came to choosing a new career or job role, this figure increased to 68% - suggesting that monetary incentives are key for choosing a new career."

It goes to show how important it is to fully understand the earning potential of a job before we consider making a change, or starting training.

If this list is anything to go by, then once you exclude the very top jobs - and those requiring enormously expensive degree courses - life as a plumber, train driver or MP starts to look very attractive.

But what do you think? What's your ideal next career? Let us know in the comments.


The UK's 10 best-paid jobs

The UK's 10 best-paid jobs