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Most Depressing Jobs? Bus Driving, Real Estate, & Social Work

Most Depressing Jobs? Bus Driving, Real Estate, & Social WorkDon’t you ever wonder: “How much more depressing could it be than to do what I do for a living?”

Wonder no more. Researchers looking at insurance claims data in western Pennsylvania finally have the answer to what jobs seem to be correlated with the highest rates of depression.

Top of the list? Those who work in the public transit system (such as buses), real estate, and social work.

What other jobs top the list? And what careers experience the lowest rates of depression?

The researchers (Wulsin et al., 2014) examined the insurance claims data of a population of 214,413 individuals from 2002 – 2005 who were employed in western Pennsylvania (which includes the city of Pittsburgh). Depression in the study was defined not only by its traditional diagnostic code in the ICD-9, but also any code where depression is a part of the condition, such as bipolar disorder. The researchers also counted anyone who came in for treatment of some other problem, where depression was a secondary concern (and not the primary concern they were being treated for).

Previous research has found that the risk of clinical depression was strongest for those in careers that had the most job strain, defined as “high demand and low decision latitude.” That is, where the job requires a lot of effort and attention and very little decision-making or autonomy.

The cost of depression on the job is high. One estimate in 2000 put the rate at $83 billion in the U.S. alone (due to absenteeism, lost productivity, etc.). The researchers hope the current study helps shed some light on which jobs are at greatest risk, to help with more targeted treatment and prevention strategies in the workplace.

The highest rate of depression was found among those in the public transit system, such as bus drivers. They had a rate of 16.2 percent, with those working in real estate weren’t far behind with about a 15.5 percent rate. Social workers had about a 14.8 percent rate of depression, according to the study:


The lowest rates of depression — 6.9 percent — were found in amusement and recreation services, such as those working at fitness centers, trainers, and at the theater. Other low rates of depression were found in jobs that were more physically active and/or outdoors:


Other common work industries — such as trucking, restaurants, health care, education and engineering — had depression rates similar to the average found in this study, 10.45 percent:


The researchers noted that the kinds of jobs where depression rates were highest “tended to be those which, on the national level, require frequent or difficult interactions with the public of clients, and have high levels of stress and low levels of physical activity.” It’s not surprising that such jobs seem to foster an unhealthy relationship with depression, while jobs where you’re outside and engaged in physical activity much of the day appear to have lower rates of depression.

There are, of course, a few limitations to the study. Examining insurance claims data may give us a biased sample, since people who never seek out treatment for depression aren’t included in the dataset. This is a potentially huge issue, since previous research has shown that most people don’t seek treatment for depression. The data also were drawn from just one small geographic region in the U.S. and may not generalize to other regions.

Nonetheless, the study give us a little food for thought. So the next time you get on that bus, give the bus driver a smile instead of a frown. It may help improve their day, if even just a little.



Wulsin, L., Alterman, T., Bushnell, P.T., Li, J. & Shen, R. (2014). Prevalence rates for depression by industry: A claims database analysis. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatric Epidemiology, 49, 1805-1821.

Most Depressing Jobs? Bus Driving, Real Estate, & Social Work

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Most Depressing Jobs? Bus Driving, Real Estate, & Social Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 22 Dec 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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