Fuelled by innocence and optimism in the initial phase of our lives, our childhood years are filled with aspirations of what we might become. Our dreams may be dominated by scoring the winning touchdown at the SuperBowl or leading your band out to headline at Coachella, but have the most popular childhood dream jobs changed over time?


Has technology impacted the younger generation’s idea of the dream job? To find out, we surveyed 2,000 adult Americans about their aims and ambitions when they were growing up, before finding out how many of them made it when it came to adulthood.


Generations Aspire for Public Service Roles

Respondents were asked, “What would you say was your dream job when you were a teenager?” The result touched on everything from creative, artistic roles, public-eye positions, and noble, caregiving jobs:


Top 10 dream jobs


These are the ten most dreamt about childhood jobs in today’s American workplace. Public service jobs performed particularly well, suggesting a strong sense of social responsibility in our teenage years. When broken down across five age brackets, the story is very similar.


A few interesting differences show that our idea of the dream job has evolved in some areas over the last 50 years.


Dream jobs by age


Most notably is the emergence of “eSports player”. Thrust into third place among 18-24 year-olds, more of the youngest working generation would rather play video games professionally than become lawyers, engineers, or scientists. They’re not the only ones either, as eSports player is the 8th most popular dream job for 25-34 year olds.


The desire to work in public service careers runs through every generation. Doctor/nurse and teacher made it into the top four in each of the five age brackets.


Dream jobs public service


Other, similarly caring or socially responsible jobs, such as veterinarian and lawyer, also feature prominently – making the top 10 in four of the five age ranges.


500 of our survey respondents are parents with children under-16. So, we asked them what their child’s dream job would be:


2ndPolice Officer
6thTV Personality/Celeb
8thPro Sports Star
10thScientist, eSports Player


Again, roles that entail some form of public service performed well, making up the entire top five. However, some digital or media-based roles are gaining traction.


eSports player again makes the top 10, confirming the emerging popularity of a role that wouldn’t have existed when older generations were in their childhood. Performing even stronger is TV personality/celebrity in 6th. For this, we also specified this could include a YouTube star, therefore including the role models that many younger generations now aspire to be.


The rise of digital technology and social media has formed a new type of celebrity. As children head for YouTube and video games such as Fortnite for entertainment, they search for idols that align with these interests. In an attempt to emulate them, the jobs of these idols are now finding their way to the top of the most aspirational roles for the youngest generations.


There were some significant differences in the aspirations of men and women during childhood.


Dream jobs by gender


We found that females were much more inclined to select caregiving, public service-related jobs – with teacher, doctor/nurse, and veterinarian making up the top three. There is a connection between this data and the gender breakdown of these industries. Teaching roles in the USA are overwhelmingly taken by females, whilst female graduates are higher in veterinary medicine than males.


The same can be said of some of the highest placed male dream jobs. Science and engineering is one of the most male-dominated industries of them all, and video gaming has long been stereotyped as a male-orientated past time.


These statistics say something about the differences between men and women, and how different upbringings influence what we want to do when we grow up.


But Most of Us Never Make It

We also asked respondents if they managed to achieve their childhood dream and make it to their ideal job. Just short of a quarter (24%) of people have at some stage been employed in their childhood dream job – including 10% that are right now. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those that said they made it also said the job lived up to the expectations they placed on it during childhood.


Of the remaining 76% that never made it, over a third (39%) say they regret not pursuing their aspirations further. Asked what they think the most significant factor is to never achieving their childhood dreams, 34% said that they simply “don’t have the required skill set or knowledge”.


Dream jobs reasons


Other significant factors include “financial constraints”, which 16% of respondents selected, and “I prioritized raising a family” (10%). The latter was much more popular among women, with 14% selecting it compared to just 3% of men.


Are We Happy in Our Careers?

One final area the survey touched upon is how happy people are on their current career path, be it their dream job or not.


A third of all respondents said they aren’t currently happy in their career, with a clear trend of unhappiness towards younger generations.


Over a third (39%) of those aged between 18-44 are currently not happy in their careers, 10 percentage points higher than those aged 45-65 (29%). The same trend occurred when we asked them if they wished they had grown up in a different generation to their own, and therefore been afforded different career options and opportunities.


Of 18-44 year-olds, 30% said they wished they had grown up in an older generation. For 45-65 year-olds, just 18% wished they could have taken advantage of the job opportunities a younger generation had.


The oldest of our respondents (55-65 year olds) were the most content, with 68% happy with their inherited generation. This is 11 percentage points higher than 18-24 year-olds (57%), and 15 more than 25-34 year-olds (53%).


It reflects well on American society that jobs that fundamentally care for people are being aspired to the most, and that doesn’t seem to be changing from generation to generation.


However, more Americans have college degrees than ever before. While this provides opportunities for more of the population, it means a steady increase in the competition for specialist positions. To adjust to the technological revolution and an increase in automation, our idea of the dream job may have to evolve to maximize our career prospects.