7 Jobs That Pay More Than $75,000 and Make a Difference in the World

man holding a piggy bank

Man holding a piggy bank | Source: iStock

Social workers, teachers, and clergy members may make the world a better place, but they’re not getting rich doing it. We might give lip service to the good work those people do, but when it comes to salary, it’s the CEOs, lawyers, and investment bankers who reap the big rewards.

As many well-intentioned job seekers have discovered, pursuing a helping occupation often means settling for a smaller paycheck than you might get in a less altruistic career. People in community and social service careers like social work and counseling earn an average of $46,160 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Clergy members earn about $48,000 a year, on average. Preschool and kindergarten teachers earn less than $40,000 a year. And home health aides and childcare workers take home less than $25,000 annually.

All those careers likely have their rewards, but clearly great wealth isn’t one of them. But if you want a job that makes a positive difference in the world, you don’t necessarily have to settle for a tiny paycheck. For people who want to balance doing good with earning a higher income, there are an array of helping careers that pay $75,000 a year or more, well above the average salary of $48,320 for U.S. workers. (A $75,000 salary is also the point at which additional income doesn’t appear to make you any happier, according to research by a pair of Nobel-Prize-winning economists.)

If you want a job that makes a difference both in the world and in your wallet, check out these seven high-paying jobs helping others.

1. Detective

crime scene tape

Crime scene tape | Photo by Larry W. Smith/Getty Images

Keeping criminals off the streets and providing closure to victims and their relatives are important responsibilities, so it’s no surprise 78% of detectives and criminal investigators, who earn an average of $79,620 a year, ranked their jobs as meaningful, according to a survey by Payscale.

“If I am to use an old cliché, as homicide detectives we get to speak for the dead,” Christopher Barling, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, told The Guardian. “It is … rewarding to hear one of the detectives get the call from the district attorney that a jury just convicted a suspect who is responsible for a murder. These days are special because we can then explain to a family that we know who is responsible for killing their loved one.”

2. Public interest lawyer

Compared to the six-figure salaries of their colleagues who work at big law firms, public interest lawyers are paid peanuts. But those with more than 10 years of experience can still expect to earn more than $75,000 a year, according to the National Association for Law Placement. (Whether that’s enough for them to pay off the average law school debt of $140,000 is another story.)

Public defenders, who provide legal assistance to those who can’t afford an attorney, took home an average of $78,600 per year in 2012 if they had 11 to 15 years experience. Experienced lawyers working for public interest organizations, such as those advocating for civil rights or women’s rights, earned $75,000 a year, on average.

3. Surgeon

two surgeons in operating room

Two surgeons operating on a patient | Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

It you want to make a difference in the lives of others, there may be no better career choice than a surgeon. The training may be long and the stress high, but virtually all surgeons rank their jobs as very meaningful, Payscale found. They also make an average of nearly $247,520 a year.

In general, a career as a doctor was a good bet for those looking to marry high earnings with meaningful work, the Payscale report found. “[H]ealth care workers in general, at all levels, find their work very meaningful,” Katie Bardaro, Payscale’s lead economist, told Forbes. “They are saving lives and healing the sick and injured — it doesn’t get much more humanitarian than that.”

4. Educational administrator

Principals, deans, and other educational administrators are responsible for making sure schools and colleges run smoothly. They hire and supervise teachers, balance budgets, create and implement school policies, and perform other tasks to help students get a quality education, according to the College Board.

Ninety-six percent of educational administrators rated their jobs as meaningful, according to Payscale (only clergy were more likely to say their jobs were meaningful). Administrators at the elementary and high school level earned an average of $92,940 per year, while those at the college level had an average salary of $102,610.

5. Air traffic controller

Pilots may get most of the attention, but flying the friendly skies wouldn’t be possible (or safe) without air traffic controllers. Keeping air traffic flowing smoothly and preventing accidents earns air traffic controllers an average salary of $118,740 a year. The stakes are high, but the job is rewarding, say those who’ve pursued this career.

“Helping someone get home safely is the most rewarding thing I can think of,” air traffic controller Micah Maziar told Job Shadow.

6. Psychiatrist


A bottle of antidepressants prescribed by a psychiatrist | Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With nearly 44 million Americans suffering from some form of mental illness every year, psychiatrists are a vital part of the health care system, providing treatment that can help people lead healthier lives. Ninety-two percent of psychiatrists rank their job as meaningful, according to Payscale, and their average salary is close to $200,000.

7. Health and safety engineer

On-the-job accidents killed more than 4,600 people in 2014, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Health and safety engineers help prevent those accidents and make workplaces safer. Depending on their career path, they might design systems to minimize the chances of an accident an error, design workspaces to reduce the chances of injury, inspect work sites, test products, or investigate accidents, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Health and safety engineers earn an average of $87,810 per year.

All salary data from the BLS, unless otherwise noted.

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