Gender stereotyping starts as young as 7-years-old

Drawings from over 20,000 primary school children show startling trends about career aspiration

Schools industry Partnership
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Are the dreams, hopes, and aspiration of children important? Do they shape who and what a child can become? Are our children learning and evolving their ideas of careers as they learn and grow? Drawing the Future is the first global research to ask children from 7-11 directly what they want to become – by drawing their ideal future job – and what influences them in their answer. To determine factors influencing career choices, the survey also asked participants whether they personally knew anyone who did the job, and if not, how they knew about the job.

The international research project from Education and Employers (The organisation that runs Inspiring the Future UK), was carried out in partnership with the OECD Education and Skills, Times Education Supplement, the NAHT and the UCL Institute of Education. Over 20,000 entries were received from the UK as well as Australia, Belarus, Bangladesh, China, Columbia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Uganda and Zambia. Inspiring the Future Australia is proud to have contributed several hundred entries from children in Australian schools.  

The findings of the report demonstrated three large implications; that our children’s career aspirations are only marginally shifting from age 7 to age 17, that careers is still a distinct gendered experience, and that the career aspirations of current children do not match with the workforce needs they will need to fill.

“The lack of access to role models and awareness of the different jobs is a particular concern for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The drawings also show clear gender patterns. But there is a simple solution that is easy to implement. All children, regardless of their social background, where they live or the jobs their parents do, should have the same chance to meet people doing a wide range of jobs to help them understand the vast opportunities open to them. It is something governments and policy makers around the world should give much more consideration,” said Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the OECD.

In terms of gender stereotyping and gendered career expectations, across the sample of children’s drawings aspirations tended to lay in stereotypical masculine/feminine roles. One of the most popular jobs for boys being police and for girls teaching. The STEM aspiration results were also fitting with popular theories, seeing boys’ preference working with things, like an engineer, where girls aspire to be working to care for people, like a doctor.

The survey also revealed that children’s career aspirations have little in common with projected workforce needs – proving that despite government interventions, we are failing to attract young people into careers in future growth sectors and those where there are already significant skills gaps. This correlates with a concern we’ve seen growing amongst many industry sectors here in Australia, who are struggling to find young people for the jobs they have available.

 “Drawing the Future demonstrates the need for primary school age children to have more exposure to role models from the world of work from an early age. This is vital to ensure that children better understand the world they are growing up in, are aware of the vast range of career options open to them and are not ruling things out at an early age,” said Nick Chambers, CEO, Education and Employers.

The Drawing the Future research project demonstrates a real need for Inspiring the Future, especially the Primary Futures campaign, which aims to expose primary aged children to different careers and get them to think about the school and career connection. People from every industry sector and occupation across Australia are invited to sign up with Inspiring the Future as volunteer speakers in their local primary and secondary schools to share their career story and help address the issues raised in the report.

Find out more about Primary Futures

Read the Drawing the Future report       

Read the Drawing the Future report summary