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Which Occupations Earn More Than Their Parents Did?


If you polled a group of teenagers, you might get the impression that their future occupations would have nothing to do with what boring old mom and dad did for a living. Catch up with them a few years later, and it’s clear that parents do affect career choices, if not exactly in the way you’d expect.


(Photo Credit: Tim Samoff/Flickr)

Quoctrung Bui and his colleagues at NPR longitudinal survey examining 12,000 people from 1979 to 2010. What they found was that household income in childhood and career choice and earnings later on were linked in some interesting ways.

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For example:

  • Artists, designers, and musicians fell into the childhood income bracket of $65,000-69,000 — the same as chief executives, general managers, and engineers.
  • Doctors, dentists, and surgeons were lower — $55,000-59,999 in childhood. Salespersons, nurses, counselors, clerks, and administrative assistants occupied the same bracket.
  • Farming, fishing, and forestry fell in the lowest childhood income bracket of less than $35,000.
  • Lawyers and judges came from the highest-earning income bracket of $85,000-89,999.

All of that is fun trivia, especially for artists who are constantly accused of having a trust fund or doctors who are sometimes regarded as being much richer than they actually are. But the most interesting (and potentially depressing) data-crunch comes when Bui looks at the percentile change in income between childhood and adulthood. (Halfway down the page, here.)

Looking at change in income between childhood and adulthood, the shift is most favorable for doctors, dentists, and surgeons and least favorable for designers, musicians, and artists.

All of this raises another question: is there something about being financially secure that makes children more likely to select riskier professions, in terms of earning potential? While this data doesn’t answer that question one way or the other, it would make sense. For one thing, no one who has ever been poor would romanticize living in a drafty (but artistic) garret.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think your parents’ careers had any bearing on yours? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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