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Dreamers through the decades

Georgina Fuller

Young girls look set to choose more male orientated jobs, such as being a pilot or doctor but definitely not a housewife, when they grow up, a recent survey by clothing company showed, Georgina Fuller investigates

Becoming a pilot or a sports star were the top choices, cited by 20% of the 100 girls, aged between 6-15 years, who took part in the Dreamers through the Decades study. Becoming a doctor or nurse (13%) or a performer or designer (11%) were also popular, followed by being a teacher or engineer (9%). Working in the beauty industry was a less popular option, cited by 7% and only 5% aspired to be an astronaut. The young participants hoped, somewhat optimistically, to earn £300,000 a year and work just 29 hours a week. But not one ticked the box about becoming a housewife.  

Career coach Fiona Clark says children often learn about ambition and aspiration from their parents. “There’s no doubt that daughters see their mums as their main role model and with more mums than ever before choosing to have a career alongside being a parent, I think it’s inevitable that career aspiration is rubbing off on the younger female generations,” she notes.

Angela O’Connor, CEO of the HR Lounge consultancy, says many young people today may not even be familiar with the term ‘housewife’ as they have always had mothers who have worked. “Many young girls will see dual wage earners in their own homes and have an expectation that they can follow their dreams and have careers that excite and fulfil them,” she says.

O’Connor said, however, that being a housewife should not be confused with being a stay-at-home parent and taking time out to raise your children when they are young. “Many women and men wish to have the opportunity to stay at home when their children are young and resume a career at a later stage.”

The study also included interviews with 620 adults born between 1930 and 1990 and looked at the top dream jobs from the 1930’s onwards. In keeping with the celebrity obsessed, X-Factor dominated culture of today, those born in the 1970s, ‘80s and 90s aspire to become performers, whereas those born in the austere post-war decade of the 1930s hoped to become pilots or doctors. The professional theme continued through the 1940s with teaching being the most popular choice, followed by a pilot in the 1950’s and a sport star in the more liberal, free loving 1960’s.

Many working women today, however, still lack the confidence and self-belief to go for aspirational roles, according to Clark. “Lots of the women I coach have confidence challenges and end up talking themselves out of opportunities due to self-imposed barriers - so I think it’s a refreshing and positive trend that girls aren’t dismissing roles just because they are seen to be traditionally more male oriented.”

Another recent study by the IRRP thinktank showed that a third of Britain’s working mothers are now the main breadwinners for their family. The Who’s breadwinning in Europe showed that the rise in single parenthood had contributed to an overall increase in women as the main earners in their family from 23% in 1996 to 33% in 2013.

O’Connor says, however, that there is still a dichotomy when it comes to women in the workplace and childcare. “There is still a gap in earnings based on gender. Women are not well represented in our boardrooms and childcare is so prohibitively expensive that many ambitious workers will have limited options when they come to have children,” she comments. “I believe that women and men should have the freedom to choose to be with their children or to pursue a career outside the home and there should be no limits on their ambition.”

Overall however, the survey reflects well on the mind-set and opportunities for the next generation of women in the workplace even though some of their aspirations, such as earning £300k and working 29 hours a week, may be a little too optimistic.

“We should be pleased to see children dreaming about their futures and opting for exciting and challenging careers. Let’s not limit their dreams in any way,” O’Connor said.

Clark echoed her sentiments. “Helping children – especially girls – to feel confident, empowered and that the world is their oyster when they are young it will keep their eyes open to all the possibilities there may be in the future.” And that can only be a good thing.


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