Teen Career Picks: The More Things Change . . .

by Josephine Mazzuca, PhD
Senior Staff Writer, Toronto Bureau

What do you want to be when you grow up? Most American kids have been asked this question countless times, and it's one that teens are especially likely to consider as they begin to make decisions about their futures. In the most recent Gallup Youth Survey*, U.S. teens (between the ages of 13 and 17) were polled about their career aspirations.

Teens' top career choices both involve serving the public in some capacity. Careers in the medical field make up the most popular category mentioned by teens; this category has placed in the top 10 since Gallup began to ask this question 26 years ago. Teaching, another traditionally popular choice, ranks right alongside medical professions. Not surprisingly, the computer field is another popular career arena. Today's generation of teens has grown up around personal computers and probably does not remember a time when they did not exist. The computer field first began to surface as a teen career choice in the Gallup Youth Surveys of the early 1980s. Among other careers frequently mentioned by teens are "athlete," "veterinarian," "lawyer," and "engineer."

While many career aspirations, such as those related to the medical and legal fields, are shared by both genders, there are differences in girls' and boys' career plans. Boys are more likely than girls to mention careers in computers and the military; these two choices do not appear in the top 10 choices for girls, nor do engineering, mechanics, or law enforcement. On the other hand, teaching has appeared on girls' top 10 lists since Gallup first asked the question in 1977, and rarely appears high on the list for boys (although it does appear in their current top 10). Nursing and veterinary medicine are the other two career choices that are much more likely to be mentioned by girls than boys. Interestingly, girls are also more likely than boys to mention a career in medicine, nursing excluded.

Bottom Line

The list of teens' career choices continues to evolve. Advances in technology have made the computer field a mainstay on teens' career-choice list, and there are a broader array of responses among girls than there were in the 1970s.

But some aspects of that list are resistant to change; in many cases, male and female adolescents appear to continue to gravitate toward stereotypical gender roles when considering future work options. These patterns in career aspirations appear to translate to reality for many women. A recent study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that college-educated women are still likely to select "pink-collar" jobs, such as teaching and nursing, while neither of these occupations are among the 10 most common for college-educated men.

*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 1,200 respondents, aged 13 to 17, between Jan. 23-Feb. 10, 2003. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%. For a complete description of the sampling and weighting procedures used to conduct the survey, click here.

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