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What Today’s Kids Say They Want to Be When They Grow Up

When you were younger, how did you answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" These days, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that this is a question we really shouldn't even be asking little kids; it might be sending the wrong message about identity. But, since the question persists, we might as well take a look at some of the answers kids are providing. They shed interesting light on the different messages boys and girls are receiving about potential career options, and how these messages have changed over time.

When you were younger, how did you answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” These days, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that this is a question we really shouldn’t even be asking little kids; it might be sending the wrong message about identity. But, since the question persists, we might as well take a look at some of the answers kids are providing. They shed interesting light on the different messages boys and girls are receiving about potential career options, and how these messages have changed over time.

kid chefs

(Photo Credit: Coqui the Chef/Flickr)

The website Fatherly, which provides parenting resources for men, surveyed 500 kids under the age of 10 about what they want to be when they grow up. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting, and telling, aspects of the results.

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1. The responses were very different when broken down by gender.

This survey clearly indicates that kids are still receiving different messages from our culture, based on their gender, about what is expected of them in the future. Boys’ number one choice for a future career was pro-athlete, whereas that answer didn’t make the girls’ top five. In fact, the only answer girls and boys have in common in their top five lists is, “I don’t know.”

In addition to pro-athlete, boys said that they aspired to be firefighters, engineers, and astronauts the most. Girls said that they wanted to be doctors, teachers, scientists, and chefs/bakers. The doctor and scientist choices are encouraging in terms of the messages our youngest generation is receiving about females’ role in traditionally male dominated STEM fields. But, we can also see some other areas where the culture is still coming along.

“We can celebrate the girls’ focus on STEM, which is largely focused towards healthcare and sciences,” says Simon Isaacs, co-founder of Fatherly, “but if we look at ages 1 through 10 right now, we still have a long way to go with regards to getting girls involved in engineering, computer programming, and other tech fields.”

2. The results varied regionally.

Pro-athlete was the number one answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when all results were tallied collectively. When the results were broken down by region though, things changed a little. Kids in the Northeast, for example, said that they’d like to be a doctor more often than anything else. In the Southeast, veterinarian was the dominant choice. Only kids in the West responded that they’d most like to be a pro-athlete more than any other choice. The variation in these results show that children in different regions are receiving separate messages from their culture, and that these subtle communications are changing the way they envision their futures. Young people in the Midwest seem to look favorably upon some of the folks that give them these messages; they were the only region that responded that they’d like to be a teacher most often.

3. Answers became more realistic with age and exposure.

Exposing your children to lots of different ideas and options regarding their future career choices is key. Between the ages of 1 and 5, kids responded with answers like “I don’t know” or sometimes by selecting somewhat unrealistic career paths. Some said they wanted to be a superhero or a certain kind of animal, for example. As they got older though, choices like video game designer, athlete, and veterinarian start to push ahead of such selections.

Of course, kids being kids, some of the answers fell outside of the normative range. But, the hilarity some of these answers provide should not be left on the cutting room floor. Some fun (and unique) answers that deserve an honorable mention here were: mattress tester, kitty cat, fixer, and dinosaur. There is hope for our world yet.

Be sure to check out the full report from Fatherly for more information.

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think these results say about how kids’ aspirations have changed from when you were a kid? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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