Teenagers want jobs not glamour, study finds

A huge survey of Britain’s teens reveals a sober-minded generation, more interested in hard work than fame and fortune. Does ‘Generation A’ have what it takes to survive a challenging future?

During an official visit to Liberia six months ago, British Prime Minister David Cameron was impressed by the ambitions of a group of local schoolchildren. Some wanted to be doctors; others lawyers; one even wanted to become a government minister. ‘If you ask children in the UK,’ he joked afterwards, ‘all they want to be is pop stars and footballers.’

But according to newly released research by polling company BritainThinks, David Cameron was wrong. In fact, the teenagers of what people are beginning to call ‘Generation A’ seem to have their minds fixed on the future and their feet firmly on the ground.

Teenagers from Leeds, London and Coventry were asked about their plans and ambitions for the years ahead. Surprisingly, ideas like being famous or appearing on TV or owning the latest brands had little appeal. The number one ambition among those surveyed? Getting a satisfying job. And money is not their main motivation. Two in three teens would go to work rather than claim benefits, even if they were actually getting less money as a result.

This work ethic is perhaps not surprising in a generation raised in a time of austerity. Teenagers in Britain today have grown up with the financial crisis. They are coming of age in a challenging world of scarce jobs and unaffordable housing.

With youth unemployment at a stubborn 20% in Britain, around a quarter of teenagers do not expect to succeed in life at all. Two thirds fear mental health problems in the future. Going to university is high on people’s priority list, but is increasingly seen as unaffordable.

But while some are pessimistic, other teens are still unduly confident. Most of Generation A expects to be earning up to £35,000 within ten years. The real average for young workers is £21,000. Half of those surveyed thought their parents would help them to buy a first home. Only a third of parents agreed.

Most worrying, perhaps, is that Generation A has almost no trust in politics and politicians. Only a third of teenagers expected a political party to help them achieve their goals, and only half even saw the point of casting a vote.

Generation pessimism

Are modern teenagers right to be so cautious? Expecting the worst means that they will be ready to work hard – to do what is necessary to succeed in a difficult world. Dreaming of being a pop star today generally means disappointment tomorrow.

On the other hand, too much cynicism, especially about politics, could be bad for society. Humanity’s great advances often start with impossible dreams. Perhaps 999 of those dreams come to nothing – but the thousandth succeeds.

You Decide

  1. If the only job you could get paid less than being on benefits, would you take it? Why / why not?
  2. Is there anything wrong with wanting to become a pop star?


  1. Secretly write down on a piece of paper first, what career you would like to have in ten years time and second, what career you think the greatest number of your classmates will want in ten years time. Now compare answers with the class. Did you guess right?
  2. Write a short article listing the top three challenges you expect to face in your life. Explain what they are, why they matter and how you hope to overcome them.

Some People Say...

“Narrowing down your goals can make you achieve more.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m part of Generation A. Should I be worried about my future?
That’s a tricky question. You don’t want to let anxiety over your future ruin your life now – but a little forward planning goes a long way.
Meaning what?
It is worth thinking about your long term goals. If you want to be a doctor, for example, you will need to get qualifications in biology and chemistry. It never hurts to think about where you want to end up, and begin to feel out some of the ways you might get there.
But how will I know how to achieve my aims?
Your school’s careers service would be a good start. Beyond that: just ask people. Send emails to people you admire. See if a parent or teacher knows someone who can help. People are more willing to help than you might think!

Word Watch

Liberia is a small country in West Africa that is one of the very few never to have been colonised by Europeans. The nation was founded in the 1820s by ex-slaves from the United States, who returned to Africa in search of equality and liberty (hence the country’s name).
Generation A
Dividing people into different generations, or ‘cohorts’, is a very inexact science, but has been a useful tool for sociologists and marketeers. The last half century has been dominated by the ‘Greatest Generation,’ who fought in World War II; the Baby Boomers who challenged social rules in the boom years that followed; the moody Generation X; tech-savvy Generation Y (aka the Millennials) and now Generation A (aka Generation Z).
Work ethic
Societies with a work ethic (for example, most famously, the Protestant societies of the 19th century US and Northern Europe) believe that hard work is a virtue in itself, rather than just a means to an end.
Youth unemployment
Things are bad in Britain, where one in five young people is out of work, but far worse elsewhere in Europe. In Greece, youth unemployment has reached a horrifying 60%.


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