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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