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People want their children to be lawyers and accountants despite not really trusting either profession, a survey shows.

The 2007 Reader's Digest Most Trusted People survey found lawyers and accountants ranked in the top 10 preferred jobs for offspring but in the bottom 20 of 40 occupations for trust.

Firefighters were the most trusted workers for the fourth year running, followed by ambulance officers, pilots, nurses and veterinarians - while politicians were the least trusted.

Auckland University theology lecturer Philip Culbertson said the reason for the trust in firefighters and ambulance officers was because "we need them so much", particularly as they rescued people.

Dr Culbertson, who is also an Anglican minister and psychotherapist, said people had less need to be rescued by a dentist "so they're a little further down the list".

Real estate agents, car salesmen and telemarketers ranked among the least trusted, because they were perceived as self-serving.

"Those are all people who talk to us and who we believe are not interested in us but interested in themselves."

Politicians were at the bottom of the list because of a feeling they would betray people.

While people trusted firefighters the most, they ranked only 10th in the preferred job category.

Dr Culbertson said this was because although people trusted those working in the field they also did not want their children to be in danger.

Safety, security and a happy future for children were also factors in lawyers and accountants ranking sixth and eighth in the preferred career list but only 28th and 22nd, respectively, among trusted occupations.

"We live in a pretty scary world in lots of ways and we would like somehow to put our children in a place where we think they're safe, where they've got an income and a respectable job, and they're not in physical danger," Dr Culbertson said.

"And I think we have a fantasy that lawyers probably make more money than they actually make."

Among other results, Sir Edmund Hillary was voted the country's most trusted person for the third consecutive year, followed by children's author Margaret Mahy and Olympian and scientist Peter Snell.

Dr Culbertson said Sir Ed's ranking was no surprise. "He's an icon. He's somebody that people use as the carrier of their fantasies ofgoodness."

The fact that eight of the top 10 were sportspeople and that the other two were Mahy and "Mother of the Nation" Judy Bailey also said a lot about people's cultural ideals.

"We care about sport, we care about mums and we care about children," Dr Culbertson said.

Mahy moved up to second from seventh position last year, after winning the Hans Christian Andersen Award - the world's top prize for children's literature - in 2006.

She was one of eight women in the top 10 most trusted people with Olympic rowing champions Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell sharing 10th place.

Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui and Bishop Brian Tamaki, founder of Destiny Church, were among the least trusted of the list of 75 people, for the second year running.

Of charities, the Cancer Society was most trusted, followed by the SPCA, while organisations with a political or religious agenda, including World Vision and Greenpeace, ranked among the bottom five of 25.