It’s Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012. The holiday festivities are officially (and sadly) behind us and most American’s are back at work today, business as usual. Some of us will revel in sinking our teeth back into work that we love to do, while others may get a professional wake-up call that they are, at the very least, unsatisfied in the job they currently hold or absolutely miserable, at worst. It’s a new year, which is always a perfect time to reinvent yourself or consider making a fresh start.

ForbesWoman staff writer, Jenna Goudreau, who covers navigating success for professional women, recently wrote about the Best Jobs For Women In 2012. We’ve broken down the nuts and bolts of her story here as we think it may offer some direction to younger women, who are trying to determine their career path, and inspiration to more seasoned professional women looking to make a change.

The facts, figures and information in Jenna’s article came from jobs expert, Laurence Shatkin, Ph.D., author of Best Jobs for the 21st Century, who provides a rare look at the jobs in which women feel most satisfied and successful. He compiled a top-10 list based on women’s high satisfaction levels, from the National Survey of College Graduates conducted by the Census Bureau. It includes median annual earnings for salaried workers, from the Department of Labor (DOL); the job growth outlook through 2018, based on projections from the DOL; and average yearly openings. As Jenna points out, “The results may surprise you.”

The 10 Best Jobs For Women In 2012

No. 1: Postsecondary Teachers

Annual earnings: $59,000 (for foreign language and literature teachers) – $94,260 (for law teachers)
Projected growth: 15%
Annual average job openings: 55,000

Not only do women report very high satisfaction rates in this job, median annual earnings range well above the average household income in the U.S. According to Jenna’s article, “Shatkin believes women likely value post-secondary teaching for its high earnings, prestige and stimulating environments. The National Survey of College Graduates found that women appreciate a job’s location and environment more than men, and Shatkin points out that college students are generally excited to learn, colleagues are of high caliber and college campuses provide comfortable amenities. At the same time, post-secondary teachers have a high degree of independence and autonomy, which Shatkin says almost all workers prize.”

No. 2: Anthropologists
Annual earnings: $54,000
Projected growth: 28%
Annual average job openings: 450

No. 3: Oceanographers
Annual earnings: $72,800
Projected growth: 26%
Annual average job openings: 100

No. 4: Natural Sciences Managers
Annual earnings: $116,020
Projected growth: 15%
Annual average job openings: 2,000

No. 5: Clergy
Annual earnings: $43,970
Projected growth: 13%
Annual average job openings: 21,800

No. 6: Surveyors
Annual earnings: $54,880
Projected growth: 15%
Annual average job openings: 2,330

No. 7: Chief Executives
Annual earnings: $165,000
Projected growth: -1%
Annual average job openings: 11,250

No. 8: Geoscientists
Annual earnings: $82,500
Projected growth: 18%
Annual average job openings: 1,500

No. 9: Medical Professionals*
Annual earnings: $94,990-$166,400
Projected growth: 9%-22%
Annual average job openings: 36,000
*Includes dentists, optometrists, physicians, etc.

No. 10: Aerospace Engineers
Annual earnings: $97,500
Projected growth: 10%
Annual average job openings: 2,250

Some of Shatkin’s findings, as reported in Jenna’s article, were particularly interesting to us:

  • Women are so fond of autonomy that they want to be the boss (No. 7). While they are currently only 25% of all CEOs, the ratio may be changing. In 2010, women received 44% of all MBA degrees granted, a 75% increase since 2000. Meanwhile, 40% of all private companies are now launched and owned by women.
  • Due to cultural influences, women have traditionally been and continue to be the primary caretakers for the family, says Shatkin, which may help explain why many of the best jobs also feature a fair amount of security. It may be hard to land a job as a post-secondary teacher (No. 1), anthropologist (No. 2), oceanographer (No. 3) or natural sciences manager (No. 4), but once in the position turnover is low, according to Shatkin.
  • Women survey respondents ranked the importance of security above salary and advancement opportunities. “If you’re caring for a family,” Shatkin says, “job security is a top priority.”
  • Women also place more significance on a job’s contribution to society than men, according to the survey, which may help explain why women enjoy working as clergy members (No. 5). The position requires good interpersonal skills and verbal acumen, which Shatkin says women test better in, and gives back to the community in a highly meaningful way.
  • Similarly, medical professionals (No. 9) like dentists, optometrists and physicians are in a helping field and offer a very necessary and valuable service to society.
  • Jobs with the lowest satisfaction rates among women include food preparers and servers (median salary: $19,000), retail salespeople ($21,000), production workers ($30,000) and secretaries and administrative assistants ($31,000).