When I Grow Up: Kids’ Career Aspirations

In 2015 Fortune published a survey by Fatherly (a website for millennial Dads) on what their kids want to be when they grow up. The survey responses were culled from girls and boys, aged 10 and under.

Here is what they said:

Top 5 Professions For Boys

  • Pro Athlete
  • Don’t Know
  • Firefighter
  • Engineer
  • Astronaut

Top 5 Professions for Girls

  • Doctor
  • Teacher
  • Don’t Know
  • Scientist
  • Chef/Baker

What is cool about this survey is contrasting it with one done in 1989 by the British Journal of Guidance and Counseling, who asked girls and boys in the same age range the same question. In 1989, boys still were most interested in becoming a pro athlete, but they also said they might like to be a service member. Engineer made their list too.

The results for girls in 1989 was more telling. Their most hoped for professions were teachers, nurses, flight attendants, secretaries, and hairdressers. (I was not included in this survey as my response would have been “one of the Charlie’s Angels”).

But it shows a lot of progress in terms of girls’ career aspirations. Doctor and Scientist didn’t make it on the list for girls in 1989, but they are there now. This could be attributed to a host of things; more female role models in these professions, more support in school for girls, and more parental encouragement to pursue these professions.

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) initiatives involving girls are now ubiquitous. They have taken on new urgency in light of the fact that future jobs will involve all these skills. How will girls become Robotics Engineers, Drone Developers & Explorers, Space Pilots, Organ Designers, and Water Harvesters without STEM skills?

When I was 16 I had a poster of Michael J. Fox on my wall. Girls today will do better to put up one of Elon Musk. So organizations like Girls Who Code and the National Girls Collaborative Project are helping to prepare them with specialized outreach and training.

CUNY is also doing its part, at both the pre-college and college level. The CUNY STEM Research Academy teaches high school students techniques they need to pursue STEM degrees when they get to college, pairing them with CUNY faculty who serve as mentors. In 2015, CUNY pledged $35 million to support STEM initiatives throughout its schools.

This is important for everyone, but especially girls. Our Equality Indicators research finds large disparities between male and female CUNY degree recipients in terms of STEM. 18.1% of male CUNY graduates received their degrees in STEM fields compared to just 7.4% of female graduates in 2015.

We need to encourage girls to literally reach for the stars. A STEM degree is the surest way for them to do that.