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Indian Parents Care More About Their Kids’ Careers Than Happiness, Survey Reveals

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HSBC’s survey on “Value of Education: Learning for Life” surveyed close to 10,000 parents in 16 countries on the ultimate goals they have for their children; and some of the survey results are startling in India’s context. The survey looks at developed and developing countries, including USA, Canada, Mexico, UK, France, India, Turkey, China, Hong Kong, UAE, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Brazil, Australia and Malaysia. It looked at the goals parents have for their children – being happy in life, successful in their careers, being healthy, having comfortable incomes, and fulfilling their potential.

In fact, India at 49% had the lowest proportion of parents who opted for happiness for their children amongst other nations (the average globally being 64%). Similarly, India at 51% had one of the highest proportions of parents who wanted successful careers for their children, second only to Mexico’s 52% (the average globally being a low 30%). Interestingly, apart from India, none of the remaining 15 countries had a higher proportion of parents wanting career success ahead of happiness.

While these ratios may be startling, there may be opinions in support. For example, the intense competition in a high-population country where 1 million are entering the workforce each month, makes getting a good career option very competitive and tough. No wonder it is a source of tension for most Indian parents, who want their children to have a good career. But there is a counter view to this – while countries with smaller populations, like those in Europe, have fewer graduates fighting for the few career options, their sluggish economies are not creating many jobs either. Moreover, another high-population nation like China had 63% parents wanting happiness for their children and only 15% wanting career success.

Does this mean the competitive intensity to get good jobs amongst Chinese youth is less?  News reports hardly suggest that! This is probably an indicator of why there have been educationists and child psychiatrists raising the issue of growing depression amongst Indian children when they are unable to achieve their breakthroughs at school or work despite years of grind. Perhaps the competitive intensity for good jobs and colleges, coupled with reservations restricting general seats in colleges and universities and less large corporations than China make Indian parents tense for their children’s professional future. The results are reflected in the above-mentioned figures.

Ironically, while a very high proportion of Indian parents want their children to be successful in careers, very few of them want their children to earn enough to lead a comfortable life (only 22% in India, compared to the global average of 34%). Only Mexico, China and the UAE ranked below India on this scale. If parents want their children to have successful careers, and assuming successful careers pay commensurately, then it follows that they would want the security of an income to lead a comfortable life?

But the data does not show that. It suggests the motive of Indian parents is to see their kids get into good jobs, irrespective of whether it pays adequately or not. Given that corporate salaries in India are much lower than most other countries, you could never be earning enough to live comfortably in a mid/high inflation economy. Or maybe most Indian parents want the status of a good job, in terms of designation, role or company brand, rather than the level of salary it pays. A joke in India is that a software engineer is an ideal catch for an arranged marriage first due to his qualification and profession, and later due to his pay-cheque. Ideally, if Indian parents worry about their children having successful careers, perhaps they should worry equally about earnings!

Very few Indian parents want their children to fulfill their true potential. It is only 17% in India vs. the global average of 29%, with only Turkey, UAE and Malaysia scoring lower. One is reminded of the movie “3 Idiots”, where the character Farhan Qureshi (played by Madhavan) confronts his father’s desire for him to become an engineer despite his own interest in wildlife photography. A line by Madhavan to his dad aptly sums it up – “even if I become an engineer, I will be a very bad one”. Pushing for successful careers is one thing; but if the true potential of the child lies elsewhere, then he will hardly make a success of it. Even if he succeeds, his meaning of happiness will lie elsewhere; and if he does not, then it may add to the growing numbers of child depression.

Nevertheless, a good finding is that the proportion of Indian parents who want a healthy lifestyle for their children is near the global average, i.e. 33% vs. 34%. Most other countries, including some of the developed ones, rank much lower. To be fair to Indian parents, our corporate sectors, education sectors, and entrepreneurial sectors are not as large as the developed nations and have not grown as fast as China. Add to that our ever-burgeoning population, any rational parent would want a stable career for their children’s future. Perhaps this survey is a bigger eye-opener for the failings of our policy-makers and administrators, more than anything else. Hopefully, Mr Modi can alter this!

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