Teenagers increasingly believe there is no link between their achievements in school and their potential to succeed because of the careers of football stars and reality TV celebrities.
The problem, dubbed "realism deficiency" or "Beckham syndrome", was noted by researchers acting on behalf of the South West Learning and Skills Council.
They interviewed dozens of 13 to 19-year-olds in Bristol before carrying out intensive focus sessions with 24 teenagers.
The researchers found that around 40 per cent of the teenagers surveyed were "realism deficient".
"These young people are convinced that life will present them with a lucky break and that they simply have to sit tight and wait for their moment," the researchers said.
The remaining teenagers were divided between the "permission deficient" (20 per cent) who understood that success required hard work but did not think they had what it takes; the "perceived luck deficient" (10 per cent) who think success requires a lucky break but they did not have a chance of getting one; and the "realistic with permission" who were convinced of the value of education to succeed.
Jane Samuel, a spokeswoman for the South West LSC, said: "The biggest group did not see the link between education and success.
"It could be seen as Fame Academy or Pop Idol syndrome because there was an expectation that you would become a winner overnight, the idea that you would be walking along the street and someone would decide that you should be a model."
This week Valerie Davey, MP for Bristol West, warned the Commons education select committee about the problem, which she referred to as "the Beckham syndrome".
She added afterwards that she had discussed the issue with David Miliband, minister for school standards. The Commons education select committee has launched an investigation into how schools and colleges are providing 14 to 19-year-olds with skills.
On Monday it heard from Chris Humphries, director general of the City and Guilds qualification board, and Alison Wolf, professor of management and professional development at King's College, London.
Mr Humphries said that a key problem with teenagers' skills was that many found the secondary curriculum inappropriate and irrelevant. "It is worse than pupils leaving without qualifications at 16," he said.
"A lot are dropping out of education at 13 or 14. They may physically be in the classes but they are not really there because they are uninterested."
An independent group led by Mike Tomlinson is developing changes to the 14 to 19 curriculum and will be publishing its latest proposals.
However, Mr Humphries and Professor Wolf said that structural changes to qualifications might not be enough and that changes were also needed to teaching styles.
Professor Wolf said: "We have been seduced by qualification structures rather than the content inside them."