Education & Family

Young children's ambitions 'hint at emotional strength'

Children in playground
Image caption A survey of seven-year-olds found most children had ambitious career plans

Big career plans in young children may hint at greater emotional strength and resilience, a study suggests.

Researchers at London University's Institute of Education asked more than 11,000 seven-year-olds what they wanted to be when they grew up.

They found ambitious children from poor homes had fewer behavioural problems than those with lesser dreams.

"Their ambitions may reflect their sense of hope for the future," said lead author, Prof Eirini Flouri.

"Early aspirations may therefore be a very good indicator of a cluster of characteristics associated with resilience - or the lack of it - such as self-perception of competence or a feeling of hopelessness," said Prof Flouri.

Sporting dreams

The researchers acknowledge that children's career aspirations at age seven are largely dreams rather than realistic plans, for example a third of the boys interviewed said they wanted to be footballers or other sportsmen.

The 12 most popular occupations with seven-year-olds were teacher, scientist, hairdresser, sports player, firefighter, police officer, artist, entertainer, animal carer, vet, doctor and builder.

The researchers cross-referenced the results of the survey with data on the same children's emotional state, drawn from questionnaires on their strengths and difficulties filled in by their mothers. They also factored in details of family income.

The findings suggested children from the poorest families were more likely than their better-off peers to want to work in the public sector perhaps as doctors, teachers or police officers.

The study also revealed most of the seven-year-olds interviewed were very ambitious. Just over 80% were hoping for professional or managerial jobs, with girls more likely to dream of professional careers.

The researchers found girls were more interested in careers involving helping or caring for people or animals while boys were more likely to be motivated by dreams of becoming powerful, popular or wealthy.

The study found 12% of boys wanted to be policemen and 5% firemen. It also revealed 23% of girls wanted to be teachers, 12% vets and 6% doctors.

The study was based on data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which has been following more than 19,000 children from all over the the UK since they were born in 2000-1. The aim is to continue to follow them into adulthood. The study is run by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education.

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