Data from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network (O*NET) confirms a common assumption — that earning a high salary often means dealing with a lot of stress. O*NET assigns every occupation in its database a stress-tolerance score based on the level to which the job “requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.”
Scores range from 0-100, with higher being more stressful — think urologists, anesthesiologist assistants and judges, all of which have scores above 95. But there are also many modestly paying high-stress jobs — transit cops and telephone operators are way up there — and conversely, plenty of six-figure careers come with remarkably low levels of stress.
The following list profiles the sweet-spot jobs that exist at the intersection of high pay and low stress. Keep in mind when reading that while zero is the technical bottom, the lowest score that O*NET has assigned to any occupation so far is 37. Here are 10 well-paying gigs offering lower stress levels than expected.
Remote Sensing Scientist
- Median annual salary: $104,100
When satellites, aircraft and ground-based data-gathering platforms beam information back to Earth, remote sensing scientists are the ones who receive and make sense of it. But don’t think that just because their jobs aren’t stressful — the occupation’s score is a forgiving 52 — that their work is not important. They might use the data they gather to make or enhance land cover maps, create strategies for displaying geographic data or incorporate their findings into corporate or government projects.
- Median annual salary: $105,630
Environmental economists don’t endure a particularly toxic amount of stress at work — their O*NET score is a merciful 52 — but they do a whole lot of intellectual and academic heavy lifting. This job entails writing documents and academic articles to communicate the results of research to their peers and the public.
That research typically involves areas like conservation, land use, pollution and the preservation of plant and animal life. Special-interest groups use their findings to sway public sentiment, and corporations and the government consult them before making policy decisions or launching projects.
- Median annual salary: $105,900
Not only do actuaries enjoy a relatively low stress score of 70, but the job earns the O*NET “bright outlook” stamp, which is reserved for jobs that “are expected to grow rapidly in the next several years, will have large numbers of job openings, or are new and emerging occupations.”
Its score won’t hold up if you find data analysis stressful, however. Actuaries analyze statistical data of all kinds to determine risks, payments and premiums for insurance policies, annuities and pensions.
- Median annual salary: $108,100
If you’re not a math person — great math teachers insist there’s no such thing — then few jobs would be more stressful than an occupation dedicated to the subject. If you are, though, the life of a mathematician can be both lucrative and low-stress — the work earns a muted score of 56, which is an integer, but not a prime number.
Mathematicians explore new and emerging theories and solutions, conduct research, read and write academic papers and apply their findings to real-world applications in fields like engineering, the sciences and aerospace.
Computer Network Architect
- Median annual salary: $120,520
If you have the skills and education required to develop and implement information and computer networks like extranets, intranets, LANs and WANs, the life of a computer network architect offers a fair stress score of 71. They also work to secure existing networks or those that they’re creating while developing disaster-response plans, monitoring performance and conducting network audits.
- Median annual salary: $122,510
Politicking is stressful, as is campaigning, running for office and, at this point, even talking about politics over the holidays. The career of a political scientist, however, requires a stress-tolerance score of only 68.
They might study — or their work might influence — public opinion, public policy, campaigns, and outcomes of anything involving organized governance. They conduct and analyze research, advise policymakers and present their findings to the public and their peers.
- Median annual salary: $128,160
Although astronomy requires specialized skills and education, the profession of stargazing earns only a modest stress score of 73. The meat of the job, of course, involves the use of both ground- and space-based telescopes to study and record celestial phenomena, but the work involves academia as well as science.
Astronomers conduct and read research, analyze data, make presentations, collaborate with colleagues and mentor graduate students.
- Median annual salary: $130,850
Despite the high-stakes, highly competitive nature of the global oil industry, the job of petroleum engineer holds a stress score of only 68 — and it earns the O*NET bright outlook classification, to boot.
The work centers on one thing — making oil and gas extraction and production easier, faster cheaper and more efficient. Petroleum engineers, however, have to wear many hats. They might conduct any task from overseeing drilling or recommending tool changes to offering technical advice and writing reports.
Computer and Information Research Scientists
- Median annual salary: $131,490
Computer and information research scientists must possess a heightened degree of curiosity and a high tolerance for tedium and frustration, but stress generally isn’t part of the grind. The position’s O*NET score is a tolerable 66.
They analyze problems in the fields of computer software and hardware and find solutions by conducting research and testing and applying potential fixes. They can perform their work as inventors, designers or theorists.
- Median annual salary: $135,030
The job with the highest salary on the list is also the job that has the highest stress level — the position of marketing manager scores a 75, which is still well in the bottom half of the O*NET stress rankings.
They plan, coordinate, direct and implement marketing strategies, policies and programs in person, at events, online, across social media and on television and radio. The job involves limited stress only if you’re an excellent communicator and delegator who is highly organized, reliable and punctual.
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