Is Accounting a Miserable Job?

74 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2021

See all articles by Paul E. Madsen

Paul E. Madsen

University of Florida

Jeffery Piao

University of Missouri at Columbia - School of Accountancy

Date Written: July 23, 2021


The accounting profession is sustained by an ongoing supply of recruits who must be highly capable to complete the training required of new accountants. Such people have many career options open to them and those who enter accounting and remain in the field choose it over other attractive careers when they believe accounting is a better fit for them than available alternatives. Different people have different personalities, abilities, and values, and these individual-level traits are fundamental guides driving their judgments and decisions, including judgments about which job attributes seem most important and decisions about which career to pursue. In this study, we use several large, publicly available datasets describing random samples of Americans to empirically study which individual-level traits are associated with self-selection into the accounting profession and how this non-random sorting of people into accounting careers influences which job attributes accountants consider most important. We show that people who become accountants value material job attributes, like pay, significantly more than other workers and value self-transcending job attributes, like serving society, significantly less. The most direct practical implication of our findings is that accounting organizations working to recruit and retain accountants would likely produce better results if they invested less in efforts to convince accountants that their jobs are exciting and can “change the world” and redirected these investments into efforts to highlight and enhance the material rewards of accounting careers.

Keywords: Job Satisfaction, Person/Environment Fit, Audit Firm Recruiting, Career Selection, Professional Stereotypes

JEL Classification: I31, J24, J28, M41

Suggested Citation

Madsen, Paul E. and Piao, Jeffery, Is Accounting a Miserable Job? (July 23, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Paul E. Madsen (Contact Author)

University of Florida ( email )

Gainesville, FL 32611
United States

Jeffery Piao

University of Missouri at Columbia - School of Accountancy ( email )

340 Cornell Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
United States

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