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Dream Jobs: Teenagers’ Career Aspirations and the Future of Work

January 22, 2020
By Anthony Mann, et al.

A survey of 600,000 teenagers in 41 countries by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

The OECD reports 47% of boys and 53% of girls surveyed in 41 countries expect to work in one of just 10 popular jobs by age of 30. The figures, based on the latest PISA survey of 15-year-olds, reveal a narrowing of expectations as these shares increased by eight percentage points for boys and four percentage points for girls since the 2000 PISA survey.

The report says the narrowing of job choices is driven by young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds and by those who were weaker performers in the PISA tests in reading, mathematics and science.

Traditional 20th century and even 19th century occupations such as doctors, teachers, veterinarians, business managers, engineers and police officers continue to capture the imaginations of young people as they did nearly 20 years ago, before the era of social media and the acceleration of technologies such as artificial intelligence in the workplace.

The report finds a broader range of career aspirations in countries with strong, established vocational training for teenagers. In Germany and Switzerland, for instance, fewer than four in ten young people express an interest in just 10 jobs. In Indonesia, on the other hand 52% of girls and 42% of boys anticipate one of just three careers –business managers, teachers and, among girls, doctors or, among boys, the armed forces. German teenagers show a much wider range of career interests, which better reflect actual patterns of labor market demand.

Gender continues to exert a strong influence. Among students who score highly in the PISA tests, it is overwhelmingly boys who more often expect to work in science and engineering. The data also shows that high achievers do not always aim to their potential. High-performing young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are, on average, four time less likely to hold ambitious aspirations than those with high PISA scores from the most privileged social backgrounds.

The report also points to the frequent misalignment of young people’s career aspirations with the education and qualifications required to achieve them.