Having big dreams during adolescence can lead to disappointments in adulthood

Having big dreams during adolescence can lead to disappointments in adulthood


  • When outcomes at age 50 exceeded initial aspirations, life satisfaction improved.
  • Men are less satisfied with their life if their professional goals are not achieved by the age of 33.

Encouraging children to dream big when they grow up could do them more harm than good. This was revealed by a Spanish researcher and a Swiss scientist in a study published in the journal European Economic Review. As part of this work, the authors examined the impact of professional aspirations during adolescence on social mobility and later life satisfaction.

Important predictors of career success

For the purposes of the study, the team analyzed data from a British cohort that follows more than 17,000 people in the UK, all born in the same week in 1958, since birth. Thanks to this research, the researchers knew the professional aspirations of the participants in their youth, but also their situation and their profession in adulthood.

According to the results, the educational and career aspirations of the participants in adolescence were, along with cognitive abilities, among the most important predictors of their professional success. According to the scientists, this indicates that ambitious professional goals encourage people to invest more in their future professional success. “The reverse was also true: low career aspirations may be an important explanation for limited social mobility,” can we read in a press release.

The influence of parental aspirations

According to the team, young people whose parents were less educated had less ambitious career goals. “This cannot be explained solely by differences in family incomes or in the abilities of the participants. Rather, it is that the inequality seems to start very early, with their very aspirations. (…) We did not expect the parents’ aspirations for their children have such a strong influence”, explained Reto Odermatt, author of the work.


The authors also found that overambitious professional goals could lead to disappointment. The study showed that there was a negative impact on life satisfaction in early adulthood if people performed worse than they aspired to when they were younger. On the other hand, if they manage to perform better, there was a positive association with well-being, which has a greater effect than at a younger age.

“We should not leave it to parents alone to influence the career aspirations of children, schools can intervene here. Teaching staff could actively educate adolescents about careers that match their abilities. This could encourage them to look beyond beyond their own horizon. After all, a person’s worldview is often strongly defined by their environment.” concluded the researchers.

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