Career role models can play a key role in encouraging young people to pursue and achieve successful careers. However, new research suggests that household income may play a role in young people’s access to career role models, underscoring the impact of financial inequality and the need for more equitable career education opportunities.
One in five working young adults say there was no one in their life who taught them how to be successful in their career during middle and high school. Almost twice as many adults who grew up in financially struggling families (38%) say this, indicating large gaps among children based on income level. Families in low-income communities experience added educational and work-related challenges, which likely factor into the inequalities seen in this study.
As part of the Amazon-Gallup Role Models Matter study, employed U.S. adults aged 18 to 40 shared their experiences regarding career role models in middle and high school. They also provided information about the career education they remembered during that time.
Among young adults who had someone who taught them to be successful, 27% say their role models were mostly family members, and another 28% say their role models were a mix of family members and people outside their family. These data underscore the important role family members can play as work role models for children and young adults, due in part to their proximity and the important role they play in the child’s life.
However, children in financially struggling households often lack career role models who are family members. Just 14% of adults who say their family struggled financially when they were a child say it was mostly family members who taught them how to be successful, while another 15% had a mix of family and nonfamily. This compares with 73% of people from well-off families, who say their role models were mostly family members (34%) or family members and others (39%). Of course, these data relate to career role models and exclude other types of role models that children encounter as they grow up.
Families and children in low-income households face challenges that may not exist for higher-income households. The lower proportion of family-based career role models for lower-income people may be because parents who earn low wages often also hold multiple positions while managing irregular work schedules. Time constraints and work instability may make it harder for low-income parents to provide career mentorship.
Six in 10 Working Young Adults Say They Had Little or No Career Education
Career education at school has the potential to help fill gaps when no role models are available, but six in 10 young adults say they did not have much career education (42%) or any at all (19%) in middle and high school.
Those who say their families often struggled financially when they were children are the least likely to have had “some” or “a lot of” career education (30%). Overall, less than half (40%) of working young adults said they had at least some career education in middle and high school.
Data from working young adults show that career role models and career education were less available to those who grew up in financially struggling households. Adults who say they grew up in such a household are about twice as likely as the national average to say they had no one who taught them how to be successful in their career.
Family members play an important role in career mentorship, as over half of working young adults say the people who taught them how to be successful in their career were either family members or a mix of family members and others. Yet, adults who grew up in financially struggling households are less likely than adults overall to say their family members were the primary people teaching them how to be successful in their career.
Overall, these numbers show that career role models and career education are still needed for many children, regardless of household income -- but the need may be greatest for those in lower-income homes. And with young adults raised in financially struggling households less likely to report family members serving as career role models, additional efforts may be needed to ensure all students have exposure to career education and to adults who can help set them up for success in their future careers.
Read the full report for more detailed findings about working Americans' experiences with career education and role models. Learn more about the Amazon Future Engineer Program.