In a survey of 2,287 sixth-form college pupils studying mathematics, sciences or technical subjects, Lilli Zeuner of Denmark's Social Research Institute found that a third saw education as a route to personal fulfilment, while only 15 per cent saw it as a means to get a job.
"Education has become a matter of character development," says Ms Zeuner, a sociologist. "The natural sciences have lost their prestige among the young, who regard education as a means of self-realisation rather than a career - and they choose the arts. The trend towards the arts is general: psychology is more popular than mathematics or physics.
According to Ms Zeuner, the literary-cultural ideal appears to be hereditary: the higher the parents' socio-economic group, the greater the belief in the character-developing ideal. But children who choose "hard" subjects do not inherit that attitude from their parents.
"Those further down the socio-economic scale choose technical subjects aimed at providing jobs - their homes have no educational tradition and they choose the security of technical knowledge," says Ms Zeuner. Many young people attending technical schools do so because their education can give them upward social mobility, she says.
The Social Research Institute also revealed the pupils' educational and lifestyle strategies. Nearly half of the pupils (mainly male) express high support for a "strategy of immersion", whereby they wish to become cleverer; 30 per cent support a "strategy of conquest," exploiting the opportunities presented by globalisation; and 29 per cent (mainly female) support a "strategy of salvation," helping other people or dealing with important general problems.