Will you follow in your parents’ footsteps, or will a robot beat you to it?

Gone are the days when it was a given that we would simply pursue the same career as our parents or take over the family business. We now have more choice than ever. So with this freedom, are we forging our own path? Or are we still more likely to follow in the footsteps of our parents or older siblings? And when you do set your sights on the career you want in the future, how secure is it? Will a shiny metal robot or a few lines of code take your job?


Following their footsteps

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.

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 than the rest of the population to become nurses, only 8.5 per cent of daughters will actually choose this career. This means more than 90 per cent will choose a different path to their mother.

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 times the overall rate, while mothers working in law have sons choosing a legal profession at 6.6 times the overall rate.”

Sibling influence 

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


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 Professor Sarah 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.

What about the robots?

So once you make the choice about which career you want to chase, will it still be there when you graduate? In the next 15 years, almost 40 per cent of the jobs worked in Australia today will be replaced by artificial intelligence, meaning it’s normal to wonder if a robot may come along and take your job.

Luckily, the BBC has built an interactive site that calculates the likelihood of your chosen career being automated by robots in that time.

Researchers at Deloitte crunched the numbers based on nine key skills and their risk of automation, including persuasion, caring for others, originality, fine art and finger dexterity.

What jobs are safe?

Jobs that require a high level of original thought or human interaction, like an architect or a nurse will be the safest during this robot revolution. So if your dream job in the future requires you to have a level of empathy or that spark of creativity – things robots are yet to master – you can sleep a little easier.

“Roles requiring employees to think on their feet and come up with creative and original ideas, for example artists, designers or engineers, hold a significant advantage in the face of automation,” the study said. “Additionally, occupations involving tasks that require a high degree of social intelligence and negotiating skills, like managerial positions, are considerably less at risk from machines.”

What jobs are at risk?

The news from the study isn’t as good for certain sales jobs like telemarketers and bank clerks.

As our robots get more intelligent and their dexterity improves, they will be able to perform a wider range of increasingly complex manual tasks.

The report also points out that “sophisticated algorithms are challenging a number of office and administrative support roles, particularly in legal and financial services. Machines are already beginning to take on a number of tasks carried out by legal professionals by scanning thousands of documents to assist in pre-trial research.”

So what’s left for me?

Automation and advancements in technology have been making repetitive, labour-intensive jobs redundant for centuries. However, these same technologies will create new jobs as well opportunities to build even newer technologies. And while we don’t know what these new jobs and opportunities will be, what we do know is, as Barack Obama put it: “The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create.”

This article was original featured in UOW’s The Stand. Story and Photos by Adam Skinner


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