Fantasy, unrealistic and uncertain aspirations and children’s emotional and behavioural adjustment in primary school

Vanessa Moulton, Eirini Flouri, Heather Joshi, Alice Sullivan



We examined the aspirations expressed by 7-year-olds in association with their emotional and behavioural problems, based on data from 12,014 children in the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). We classified their written responses to the question ‘when you grow up, what would you like to be’ as aspirations for rare (34.7%) or non-rare (56.8%) occupations, fantasy aspirations (1.1%), aspirations for non-work related future states (2.3%), and uncertain aspirations (5.1%). Most children had occupational aspirations, suggesting that at age 7, children already envisage future careers. Though few had fantasy occupations, which are more common in younger children, many gave unrealistic answers which are more developmentally typical for 7-year-olds.  Children with fantasy aspirations at age 7 were more hyperactive, and had more conduct and peer problems.  Having non-work-related and uncertain aspirations at this age was not associated with adverse outcomes. Compared to children who aspired to rare occupations, those who aspired to non-rare occupations had more emotional and peer problems.  Children with ambitions for rare occupations may have higher self-efficacy and believe they can influence their choices. These findings were robust to adjustment for earlier emotional and behavioural problems, verbal cognitive ability, ethnicity, family structure, social class and poverty, and maternal education and depressed mood.


Aspirations; emotional and behavioural problems; externalising; internalising; MCS

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