30% of people end up working in the careers they dreamed of as kids

Boys across the world dream of being an astronaut.
Boys across the world dream of being an astronaut.
Image: AP Photo / Joerg Sarbach
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The career aspirations of boys and girls around the globe follow some clear patterns, regardless of whether they live in Singapore or Sweden, Australia, or the United Arab Emirates.

Boys grow up dreaming of becoming a scientist or an airline pilot or the next Kobe Bryant, simultaneously winning basketball games, acclaim and mega-bucks. Girls’ dream jobs tend to be a veterinarian, teacher, or writer.

Though that may sound stereotypical, a new survey from LinkedIn shows a clear split in childhood dream jobs. Women were far more likely to say they wanted to be novelist or a singer or some other creative career than men, while the reverse is true of “one-in-a-million” type jobs such as prime minister or astronaut. More than 13% of male professionals around the globe say they pictured themselves as president or prime minister or secret agent  versus 7.9% of women.

The gap shows up in science and engineering professions and more so in machine-operator jobs like pilot, mechanic, and race car driver, favored by 14.8% of men worldwide and only 2.1% of women as childhood dream jobs.

Boys across the globe dream of becoming an airline or helicopter pilot, whether they live in the UK or the UAE. Engineer was in the top five male dream jobs in Australia, India, and many other countries.

By contrast, girls around the globe grow up picturing a wider array of “dream jobs,” the LinkedIn survey shows. In Australia, they wish to be a teacher or writer, while in India, they favor doctor or nurse, teacher and engineering. German girls long to be writers and veterinarians and in South Africa girls favor medical careers or want to become actors.

American male professions remember wanting  to be a professional or Olympic athlete or an airline pilot, while US girls, now grown up and on LinkedIn, prefer teacher, veterinarian and writer.

The split does not surprise Katharine Brooks, director of liberal arts career services at the University of Texas, Austin. “The ones men have are really action oriented, a position of authority … very machine and very much in control,” she said. Girls prefer the arts, seeking self-expression or creative pursuits.

“Those early careers might not have to do with talent,” said Brooks, who wrote the book You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career. They might come from a favorite movie or television series, noting she saw a lot of students interested in forensic investigator when the television show CSI was popular. She grew up with a TV show called Flipper about a family with a pet dolphin. So she contemplated marine biologist as a career as well as teaching, since both parents were teachers.

Teacher was No. 1 or No. 2 dream career choice for professional women in Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States, according to the LinkedIn survey.

Overall, one in four US professionals and 30% of global workers say they earn a living from their childhood dream job or a related field, the LinkedIn survey of 8,000 professionals found.

In explaining how the survey came about, Nicole Williams,  LinkedIn’s connection director, said: ”I was thinking about how powerful your dream job is.” (She wanted to be a news broadcaster growing up in Canada.) “I loved the idea of telling a story, getting a story, conveying it and sharing that information. That’s still fundamentally what I do today” as an author and career expert for LinkedIn. “What can you elicit from those initial dreams to your job now?” she says.

Sometimes by recalling your early dream career, “you can bring elements of passion and excitement into your current job,” she said.

Researchers have studied how people choose their career, with factors such as parents’ professions, perceived talents, the environment where they live, suggestions by teachers or other influencers. Many go where they see opportunities too.

US teens seem pragmatic about their dream jobs, with more than two-thirds of them in a Junior Achievement survey indicating they may be willing to give them up for a higher paying profession,  Interestingly, only one in eight adults around the world say they gave up their childhood dream job for a more profitable career.

Only 43% of the 787 teens polled online are very confident they will achieve their ideal careers, down from the 54% who expected to land there in 2007, according to Junior Achievement surveys.

“People think ‘I can’t afford the luxury of a dream job,'” said Williams.

Yet even years or decades later, a third of the LinkedIn professionals surveyed think about their early dream careers and wonder how they could get into it. “Even though they’re long past, there’s a seed in it. …That seed doesn’t go away,” said Brooks, who teaches at least one class a semester on top of her career administrative duties. “Teaching was always something I wanted to do.”