You inherit more than your parents’ values — what your parents do for a living can make it more than 400 times more likely that you will inherit their career and follow in their footsteps, a New York Times analysis of decades of General Social Survey data found.
There were certain parental professions that had a stronger pull than others. Legislators, lawyers, military officers, bakers, and doctors were among the top jobs children were most likely to inherit. Sons were 20 times as likely to become a scientist if their mother was one. If your father is a fisherman, you are 362 times as likely to grow up to be a fisherwoman if you’re his daughter.
The effect of parents
Mothers had just as strong an influence as fathers when it came to their children’s futures, the study found. Overall, sons were 2.7 times as likely to do their father’s job and twice as likely to do their mother’s job, while daughters were 1.8 times as likely to have the same job as their mothers and 1.7 times as likely to have the same job as their fathers.
Beyond the built-in connections and contacts you get if you follow your parents’ careers, the Times analysis argued that children pursue their parents’ careers because of “the breakfast-table effect”: We grow up learning how our parents do their jobs in our homes as we see them return from work and discuss it with us. They give us the language to see their career as attainable before we’ve even started it. If you can see the path before you, it’s much easier for you to follow it.
Unemployment can be generational, too
Inheriting our parents’ thoughts about work can backfire, however. Children of unemployed parents were more likely to grow up with no idea about what they wanted to do with their careers, the study found.
Of course, your parent’s occupation is one determining career factor among many. Children can rebel against their parents’ chosen path of doctor, lawyer, or teacher and live out life as a farmer, artist, or vagabond. But as this survey reminds us, our parents have an outsized impact on our life and can set the course of our futures in unseen ways only felt years later.