U.S. News released its Best Jobs of 2014 Wednesday, using a ranking system that largely focuses on easily quantifiable measures like salary and projected job opportunities. But it also gives a small amount of weight to more ephemeral things, like stress levels. And judging from the occupations that U.S. News considered in the rankings, higher stress appears to be related to getting a bigger paycheck.
Based on interviews and research, U.S. News broke down jobs into five categories, ranging from low- to high-stress. Below, those categories' median salaries are averaged together. As it turns out, the highest-stress jobs also on average have the highest pay, and the lowest-stress jobs tend to get lower wages.
These figures don't exactly show that there is a causal link between stress and high pay ("If only having ulcer-inducing stress magically created bigger paychecks," some of us may dreamily sigh). Indeed, some of the differences between categories are not that large – the pay gap between jobs that are "below-average" and "average" in stress is about $5,000, and between "average" and "above-average" stress-level jobs, it's about $4,300.
But the pay gap between high-stress and low-stress jobs is $40,000, and it wouldn't be entirely surprising if there was a correlation here – if a job is so stressful that people want to quit immediately, an employer might want to pay workers more to keep them around. Or it might be that many stressful jobs are mentally taxing and require a lot of education to perform. Education is strongly tied to higher wages.
Not that the stress-wage correlation is perfect, of course. Baristas report having high-stress jobs, for example, but receive low wages, as do special education teaching aides, according to a 2013 study from Payscale.com. Indeed, construction workers and bartenders, two positions that were ranked as being high-stress in the U.S. News analysis, also get low wages – $18,900 and nearly $30,000, respectively. Likewise, more relaxing jobs don't have to be low-wage.
While all of the low-stress jobs in the analysis (only five of the 125 jobs analyzed are "low-stress," as it turns out) pay less than $40,000 annually, the job of physical therapist – "below-average" in stress – pays nearly $80,000 annually.
All of which merely means that among U.S. News' Best Jobs – a group that is not entirely representative of the national economy, as it only represents high-growth jobs – the most tense jobs tend to pay a bit more. Education, labor supply and required training are just a few of the main factors that play into how much an occupation pays. So it seems job hunters seeking a bigger paycheck may want to focus less on stress balls and more on building their credentials.