Gone are the days when it was a given that we would simply follow in the footsteps of our parents or take over the family business. We now have more choice than ever. So are we taking this freedom and forging our own path, or do we still more likely to follow in the footsteps of our parents or older siblings.

The research

Using a sample size most statisticians can only dream of, Facebook’s Core Data Science team compared the occupations of 5.6 million English-speaking parent-child pairs who had filled in the occupation information. They turned this massive data set into interactive graphs where you can click on an occupation category on the parent side to see the most likely professions of their offspring, and vise versa. 

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The findings

It’s probably no surprise that the study found that people are more likely to choose the same occupation as their parents. However this fact alone is a little misleading as, overall, the majority of children will choose a career path that is different to their parentals. 

For example, the Facebook research points out that while daughters with mothers in nursing are 3.75 times more likely to become nurses, only 8.5% of daughters will actually choose this career. This means over 90% will choose a different path to their nursing mother. 

Cross-gender trends

While they don’t offer a visualisation for cross-gender occupation ‘inheritance’ the Facebook team do offer some interesting insights, including the fact that “scientist fathers have scientist daughters at 3.9 the overall rate, while mothers working in law have sons choosing a legal profession at 6.6 times the overall rate.”  

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Sibling influence 

Many of us look up to our older siblings, but how does that translate to the occupation we choose? Well, Facebook’s Core Data Science team looked into that as well and found that, “15% of siblings share an occupation, which is higher than the 8.6% rate for any two same-gender, same-age individuals in the population. Twins' tendency to choose the same occupation, at 24.7%, is even more striking.” 

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Education links

The Facebook team also displayed these relationships as a network of connections, shown above. “Using a force-directed network layout algorithm to place occupations with unusually high inter-generational links closer together, we see professions clustering slightly into ones requiring a secondary degree (college and higher) or not. In other words, if your parents went to university to study for their career, you’re more likely to do the same. But as Dr O' Shea, from UOW’s School of Education, points out, “More than 50 per cent of Australian tertiary education students are the first in their family to go to university and that number is increasing.”  

The takeaway

As the Facebook team says, "Parents pass on their genes, set an example, provide opportunities, and give advice to either aim for or steer clear of their own lines of work." So, yes, while you are more likely to choose the same occupation as your parent or sibling, ultimately, the choice is yours.  

See the full range of interactive Facebook graphs 


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