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Television soaps' role in career choice

Teenagers are choosing careers based on portrayals of work in television programmes such as The Apprentice and EastEnders.

A new study finds that traditional careers advice is in danger of being usurped by TV, which often reinforces stereotypical beliefs about certain jobs - but can also challenge them.

London Metropolitan University researchers Katya Williams and Heather Mendick, who presented findings to the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association in Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University last week, found that television appeared to reinforce one-dimensional ideas about women in business.

Emily-May, one of 31 pupils from three English secondary schools interviewed by the researchers, said that "especially when you watch lots of telly, you probably think all business women are pushy women". She suggested that "quite shy" girls might not want to go into business - "even though they might be really good at it".

Links between class, sexual behaviour, appearance and career prospects were also perceived by students, based on the evidence of TV characters. Stacey Slater, a market stallholder in EastEnders, was described by Emily- May as someone who would "get around" and was a "chav"; Shanz, a female interviewee, said Stacey was "slutty" and "not going anywhere".

But the research, which was also based on feedback from 98 pupils in focus groups, also showed that TV could have a positive influence.

A young British Bangladeshi girl living in London, codenamed "Anything", was drawn to positions of power and interested in a career in the police force. She spoke of her admiration for female characters such as DI Sam Nixon and PC Sally Armstrong in The Bill, who succeed in a male-dominated environment while still retaining their femininity.

Another pupil, Paul, was inspired by this year's winner of business-based reality show The Apprentice, Lee McQueen. He identified with Lee's social class - he was "quite common" - and his ability to succeed by being a "grafter".

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