How Your Parents and Siblings Shape Your Career Path

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Photo: Sam C. Pierson Jr./Houston Chronicle/AP

Going into the family business” is a classic adage, traced back to when carpenters’ sons became carpenters, blacksmiths carried on years of tradition, and generations of cobblers existed. And it’s not strictly a bygone phenomenon — just take a look at some of the current crop of presidential candidates. The Trumps have been in business for at least a few generations, and before he dropped out, Jeb Bush was the third candidate running for president bearing his family’s last name.

But Facebook research shows that reality is a little more complicated than that. Ismail Onur Filiz and Lada Adamic gathered data on 5.6 million English-speaking occupations listed on Facebook, then mapped them out and compared parent-child relationships to see if there were any patterns. Overall, the data show a continuity of sorts in socioeconomic status: Like begets like here, at least in social and economic class. Beyond that, however, some interesting patterns emerged from the analysis. Some occupations did have a historical aspect to them: Men in a family would follow their fathers into the military, construction, architecture, and science; women might follow their mothers into hospitality, education, and clerical work. As the authors point out:

A son who has a father in the military is 5 times more likely to enter the military, but just 1 in 4 sons of a military professional does so. For fathers in the dataset who work in farming, fishing and forestry, only 3% of their sons stay in the profession, but this probability is 7.6 times the overall rate. 20% of daughters of mothers who work in office and administrative support choose the same career, but this is only 2x the usual rate. On the other hand 8.5% of daughters of mothers in nursing also choose a career in nursing, and this is 3.75x the overall rate.

If this seems highly gendered, it’s because it is, and maybe that’s a result of generational shifts, with more women entering the workforce in recent decades. But the authors also point out that these patterns are actually pretty rare in comparison to the overall population. And there are some other caveats here: Military service members tended to list their occupation more frequently than others, and of course, by definition of this being a Facebook-only study, the results aren’t representative of the entire country.

Filiz and Adamic also tackled one more area of family bonding and occupations: siblings. After all, if you were raised by the same parents, you should have the same childhood experiences and therefore be interested in similar fields as your brother or sister, right? The authors compared identical twins (who have the same genes) with sibling pairs who were within a couple of years of each other to see if this proved true. While parent relationships were sometimes strong, sibling relationships were intensely indicative: 15 percent of siblings shared an occupation; among twins, the tendency to go into the same field clocked in at 24.7 percent. For comparison, two people of the same gender and age in America would have an 8.6 percent probability of sharing an occupation. More evidence that, even when we’re all grown up, our siblings have a stronger influence over us than we might think.