Careers Aspirations in the Teen Years Matter

Teenagers must decide which educational path to take upon graduation, which sexual orientation or boundaries they will adhere to, and also which career they will aspire to. All of these things will influence the future course their lives take and, ultimately, their sense of well-being. A recent study conducted by Julie S. Ashby of the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter in England sought to examine the relationship between career aspirations in adolescence and achievement and well-being in midlife. Specifically, Ashby and her colleagues interviewed 25 fifty-year-old individuals and evaluated how their career goals at age 16 matched up with their eventual career paths and what influence the outcomes had on their well-being.

Ashby found that nearly all of the participants had achieved their desired careers at some point in their lives. One-third of the participants reported having attained the exact position that they had aspired to at age 16, be it clerical, manual, or professional. She also discovered that all of the participants who achieved their desired career goals felt a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment with life, regardless of the salary they earned. Interestingly, the participants who had the lowest aspirations, of manual labor, realized the highest level of attainment, with 75% of the participants working in the exact job that they had sought.

Notably, the participants who achieved their goals all had similar aspirations as their parents. It was only those that did not realize their desired jobs who had chosen career paths that were significantly different from that of their mother’s or father’s during their teen years. This family dynamic was also found in perception of socioeconomic status. Regardless of how much income they earned, nearly every participant, from every aspiration group, perceived their social status exactly as that of their parents, namely, working or middle class. Even the professional individuals did not acknowledge that they were upper class at age 50.

The study also revealed that stronger aspirations and higher levels of determination at 16 were more likely to result in goal achievement than weaker and lower career aspirations. Ashby believes these findings can help shape the way in which career counselors, therapists, and other professionals look at employees and their related mental health and socioeconomic concerns. She added, “In the future more research is needed to determine the way in which (if at all) different kinds of aspirations at age 16 (family, career, and wealth) interact to predict well-being and identity in adulthood.”

Ashby, J. S., Schoon, I. (2012, February 13). Living the Dream? A Qualitative Retrospective Study Exploring the Role of Adolescent Aspirations Across the Life Span. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027297

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  • serena


    February 17th, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    While there is much learning and devlopment in the early years, it seems that the teenage years are those that are so critical in them finding out who they are and what they want to be. This is their time to flourish and shine, and discover things about the world that they so desperately want to know. Encourage that!

  • AleX


    February 17th, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    Teenage is the right time to decide upon what one wants to study and eventually work as.It is a stage wherein an individual has a lot of energy,is at the right stage to make a choice,and has the age to get where he wants to.All these factors come into play and eventually ending up where you had desired to be would definitely make you feel a sense of fulfillment.

  • LeVonne


    February 18th, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    low aspirations early in life lead to low paying jobs in the future, all the more reason to get our kids to reach higher and dream bigger

  • Britt


    February 19th, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    While I think that the aspirations matter, they do not mean that they will not change. I think that it is the point of actually having the aspirations and wanting to do something with their lives that is the important thing

  • Iris


    February 20th, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    Everyone should have goals in life to work toward. That is what keeps you motivated and interested in life. And there is no better time to develop and keep these goals than when you are a teenager. This is such a formative time of your life, a time for learning about all of the things on this earth that interest you. Without these interests life becomes pretty boring and there is nothing to work toward.

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