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Source: Forbes.com Forbes.com

When I Grow Up: Kids' Dream Jobs

Published: 11 Mar 2009 19:17:42 PST

Danielle and Francisco are both 7 years old, in the second grade, and live in Newark, N.J. When Danielle grows up, she wants to be a model, and thinks she'll be paid $505 a year. Francisco wants to be a spy--and figures he'll earn $500,000 annually.

Kids usually have a pretty good idea of what they want to be when they grow up and no idea at all how much those jobs are paid. Blame it on childish innocence or fantastic imaginations, but most kids are in for repeated heartbreak when they get older, like when they realize how hard it is to snag a job as a ballerina--and then find out how little one makes.

To get a better idea of how much money kids think they'll make when they grow up, we polled several hundred children between the ages of 5 and 12, all of whom live in the New York metropolitan area. The collected results illustrate how kids think in interesting ways--and illuminate the mundane realities of adult life.

Like how many kids dream of working jobs that don't really exist. Seven out of 33 5-year-olds say they want to be superheros when they grow up, making it the single most popular career choice for kindergarteners (For the record, Spider-Man was No. 1). Three kids want to be princesses, and one hopes to grow up to be SpongeBob SquarePants.

The kids that want to work real jobs are in for a rude awakening as well. Five of 33 6-year-olds say they want to grow up to be firefighters. But according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, firefighters earn a mean annual wage of $44,130--far less than other dream jobs, like lawyer, doctor and astronaut.

The fact is, many of the most popular kid-friendly careers aren't the best-paid. In our survey of 5-year-olds, five of 33 kids say they want to one day be firefighters, and three say they want to be police officers--a job that pays a mean annual wage of $50,670.

In general, the kids we surveyed show very little understanding about how much money different jobs actually pay. Younger children tend to grossly underestimate--on average, the 5-year-olds figure police officers make $29 annually, lawyers make $59, and dancers pull in a comparatively huge $165 a year.

And older kids think jobs pay much more than they actually do--a fact that will come as no surprise to any parent who has ever asked a kid, "do you think I'm made out of money?" On average, 11-year-olds think astronauts make $362,000 a year; writers, $211,000; and dancers, $116,000--a far cry from the actual mean annual wages of $100,737 for astronauts, $60,120 for writers and $29,000 for dancers.

The good news for children today is that, regardless of what their future careers may pay, there are more options open to them than ever before. Most kids still can grow up to be anything they want--unless, that is, they want to be SpongeBob.

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