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Why 25% of teens can’t answer this question

What jobs do 15-year-olds expect to do at 30?

Every few years, thousands of teenagers are asked a very simple question: What job do you expect to have when you’re 30?

It’s an important question because having an answer helps teenagers plan for the future, whether that’s taking a specific class or deciding to attend college. That’s why the OECD’s PISA survey has asked this question since 2000.

But in the last 20 years, we’ve seen a concerning trend: More and more teenagers name the same basic jobs, like doctor or lawyer, almost as if they’re picking jobs out of a children’s book. And even more worrisome is that more and more teenagers don’t even name a job.

All of this hints that today’s teenagers aren’t thinking enough about their future plans — and, fair or not, this lack of career preparation will likely have lifelong consequences.

Sources and further reading:

  • This OECD report argues that the narrowing answers to this question hint that teens are confused about their future careers.
  • The PISA survey data is difficult to work with, but the codebook provides broad summaries of the data.
  • This study shows that students with science-related ambitions are far more likely to get science or engineering degrees, even if they aren’t as good at math.
  • This paper looks at the long-term ramifications of being “misaligned” as a teenager.
  • If you’re a solutions-oriented person, this OECD report is about what we can do to help teenagers better think about their professional futures.

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