Trust check of the professions

March 2014

They save lives, homes and property and now and again, they rescue a cat from a tree. They are among the heroes of 9/11 and time and again, they are celebrated in the movies: firemen and firewomen are always there when things get hot. And for this, they enjoy the greatest respect of the population, not just here, but on every continent of the globe. However, other caring professions also have a high reputation with the general public.

“I want to be a fireman!” Italian cartoon dragon “Grisu” has been saying to his fire-breathing father since the 70s. Perhaps this already added to the positive image of the fire services, at least in Grisu’s homeland of Italy. Today, the fire service is right at the top of the trust rankings in many other countries: in 15 countries, the men and women of the fire service were ranked top. This is according to the data taken from the GfK Trust in Professions survey for 2014, for which GfK Verein interviewed more than 28,000 consumers in autumn 2013 for the second time. Correspondents from 25 different countries were asked how they rated the 32 professions listed in terms of trust.

The social services: in demand – internationally

At the lower end of the scale, the picture is even more similar: in virtually every country surveyed, trust in the political professions – with the exception of local mayors – came last, although Swedes and Indonesians ranked sales people and insurance reps at the bottom of their list and even here, politicians also came second last. Both Sweden and Indonesia put different professions at the top of their rankings: while in Sweden, with 98%, paramedics enjoy the highest trust, in Indonesia, it is doctors and teachers who are at the top of the list. In fact in general, the caring professions are far ahead when it comes to public trust: in three countries (South Korea, Japan and Austrialia) nurses head the list, with doctors in pole position in South Africa and Kenya. The global trust rankings are dominated by professions on which we rely in an emergency.

The police: particulaly popular in Germany

An overwhelming majority of Germans also put their caring professions at the top of the rankings. Most highly trusted were the fire service (97%), followed by other social service professions, such as paramedics (96%) and nurses (95%). This puts Germans in line with the global trend, although the police have a far better image here than in other countries, where they are often associated with corruption and violence, rather than protecting the public and security. In Germany, at 81%, the police are ranked among the top ten most trustworthy professions.

Conversely, in the case of some professions, Germans are more critical than other nations: for in-stance, at 39% each, bankers and professional sports men and women come at the lower end of the rankings. The banking crisis and notorious cases of doping have evidently left a deep mark on the population of Germany. Journalists and members of the advertising industry (37% and 27%) also seem to enjoy a higher level of trust in other countries than in Germany. At just 19%, insurance sales reps were given the second worst rating, with only the politicians faring worse still at an average of 15%.

Not good news for the political classes, however, there is some small comfort: young people between the ages of 14 and 19 find their politicians more trustworthy than their older counterparts, so perhaps this is a good place to start building trust. However, many other professions also benefit from the fact that young people are quicker to place their trust in someone, including insurance reps and bankers. While these professions still come at the lower end of the scale, they achieve higher values with young people than with the older genertions. In addition, computer and software specialists, media stars and professional footballers also enjoy a compartively high level of trust in the 14 – 19 year old age group. However, even in the younger group, as with all other age groups, various caring professions come right at the top of the rankings.

Gender comparison: men are convinced by technology and football

Although the genders agree on many aspects of trust, there are some noteworthy discrepancies. When it comes to the top rankings where trust is concerned, both mean and women agree that the fire services, paramedics and nurses are most trustworthy. But the differences are more numerous: women put the police, clerics, civil servants, market and opinion researchers, mayors, TV moderators, actors and bank employees ahead in the rankings. And even candidates at the lower end of the list such as politicians and insurance sales reps have more credibility with women than with men. Conversely, men are more open when it comes to classic male professions and sport: engineers and technicians gained an 85% trust rating from men, while the figure is 76% from women. Similar results applied for architects, craftsmen and women, computer specialists, where men rated them as more trustworthy than women did and while 43% of men are convinced that professional sportsmen and women and footballers are trustworthy, only 34% of women think so. It seems that often, our own interests shape our image of other professions.

Trust is young and female in most cases

How far we trust others depends – at least in part – by his or her choice of profession. However, our own personalities also play a role here. There are people that are fundamentally suspicious- and in Germany, 15% say this of themselves – while fewer – 11% – go to the other extreme and say that in principle, they are prepared to start off trusting someone. At least, 34% admitted to this, as long as there was no obvious reason not to do so. The majority, 39%, are more cautious, preferring to trust someone only when they are convinced that it is justified. As a general rule of thumb: younger people tend to find it easier to trust someone. Presumably, this because of the fewer bad experiences and disappointments a younger person may have accumulated. The trend is for women to be a little more generous when it comes to being open and positive towards somebody else. While 56% of male correspondents said that they would be sceptical when meeting someone for the first time, who had not yet proved to be trustworthy, the figure for women was 51%.

Yet irrespective of whether we are quick to trust or more reticent or whether we would rather trust a doctor or a lawyer, our society would not function without trust. At least, trust researcher Prof. Dr. Martin Schweer of the University of Vechta is convinced of this. In an interview with uni.de, he describes why a feeling of trust is so vital to our lives: “In life, we may encounter many situations in which we are compelled to give up control and to nevertheless develop a feeling of security (…) by trusting people (…). Whether we like it or not, trust is a mechanism which is essential to living.”


Data source: GfK Verein, Study “Trust in Professions” (Autumn 2013)

If you have any queries concerning this article, please contact Ronald Frank (ronald.frank@gfk-verein.org) or Claudia Gaspar (claudia.gaspar@gfk-verein.org).

For any further queries regarding GfK Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar from GfK Verein: tel. +49 911 395-2624, claudia.gaspar@gfk-verein.org.

March 2014