Do careers run in the family?

  • Emma Finamore
  • 19 Apr 2016

Research shows parents are a huge influence on their children’s career decisions, but does this mean young people follow in the older generation’s footsteps?


According to a study, the majority of students say their parents play a major role in their decision-making about careers and study.

In the research, during which GTI Media surveyed over 3,000 students, more than half (54%) of respondents said that their parents tried to exert influence over their choice of career or course. They also did not object to this: 66% believe this is the right thing for parents to do.

But do these influences steer children towards doing similar jobs to their parents? Research by suggests that young people are actually less likely to follow in the exact footsteps of their parents, finding that just 7% of children end up in the same role as one of their parents. This is compared to almost half (46%) of children in the Victorian era following the same careers as their parents.

It would appear parents are actually pushing their children to pursue a different career, with 42% actively encouraging their child to do a different job to theirs, compared to 11% cent in favour of the same career.

Obviously some people do go into the same occupations as their parents. Take primary school teacher Catriona Sharman, for example: teaching has spanned several generations of her family. “My Dad was a geography teacher until retiring in the last ten years,” she says. “My mum is a maths teacher and has leadership responsibilities in her department. My sister-in-law is a primary school teacher and also has a SENCO role. My nan was a primary school teacher for many years. My uncle has recently retired from being a DT teacher. My step mum is a drama and English teacher.”

Catriona, who thinks she would have become a teacher regardless of her family's careers, does admit it gave her opportunities to gain work experience. “While all of my family absolutely love teaching, I have seen the struggles they have gone through before I went into teaching,” she says. “However, I also saw the positive bits that come from teaching and that must have influenced me even though no-one ever actively encouraged it as a career choice.”

She thinks sharing an occupation with others in her family gives her an advantage: “Discussions about assessment and parent's evenings are understood, and they can offer suggestions and ideas about what fun things you can do in the classroom and vice versa.”

Likewise, Ella Benning chose to follow a similar career path to her mum Jayne when she started work in a special needs school. Jayne has worked with children for more than 20 years, including as a teaching assistant in a mainstream primary and SEN secondary, as a consultant for Unicef and Action for Children, and at a respite centre for disabled children. She and is now a foster carer.

Jayne says that Ella considered several career paths during her childhood – including joining the circus – but has been very focussed since deciding to become a speech and language therapist. “Ella was always interested in hearing about my roles as she grew up," she says. "She also grew up in close contact with a severally disabled child and had a close bond with him. Ella has some similar qualities to myself, which probably helped draw her to her current career.”

Ella says, “When mum worked in one school, she was part of the autism unit specialising in that area. I now work in a school for children with autism. Mum began as a TA and was the lead in her classroom. I started as a teaching assistant and am now a speech therapy assistant. I believe it is a positive thing for a parent and child to share a career. The parent can advice their child in that career.” If Catriona and Ella’s stories have inspired you to explore teaching, check out education recruitment site, Edustaff.

Of course it’s not the only occupation that runs in families: Jean Hamilton and her daughter both work with animals. Jean had a varied career after completing a zoology degree and now works as a receptionist in a veterinary surgery. Meanwhile, her daughter Hayley has her own business – ‘Petscapades’ – which specialises in dog walking and small animal care, providing regular walks, home visits and overnight housesitting.

Jean says: “I think it's our mutual love for animals which has led us both to do work in that area, rather than me influencing her in any way. Unlike myself her education and interests were much more towards the arts. But she has always wanted to be involved with animals, keeping pets, volunteering for the RSPCA and working at Wood Green, the animal charity.”

“I would say that I have been influenced by my mum's passion, rather than by her career,” says Hayley. “Without any doubt, my interest and excitement for animals has stemmed from being brought up to respect and enjoy them. Working in a veterinary surgery has certainly appealed to me, and several years ago I looked into becoming a veterinary nurse. However, I am pleased that I have chosen the career path that I have.”

Australian Penny Wood, now based in the UK, has also chosen a career working with animals, but took inspiration from both of her parent’s fairly different careers. She works as a freelance cognitive ethologist and zoo consultant, while her father is a school principal and her mother is a zoologist. “My mother's zoological books were a huge draw card for me in my after-school free time,” says Penny. “I would pore over them hungry to get to know more and more species. I realised I loved sharing this information… my parents teach people, I teach animals.

“Far more so than career path per se, I think one is influenced by the philosophy and nature of one's family. My experience could be summarised by their joy in work, support for my crazy dreams and absolutely unconditional love.”

With support like that, you can do anything! 


Recruiting school leavers? We can help