Bend it like Beckham: Why do careers run in families?

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Watch: David Beckham's son Romeo signs first professional football contract

Some of us follow our parents into banking or retail. Others, like 19 year old Romeo Beckham, follow them into professional football stardom - or at least the teen, who this week made his debut for American club Fort Lauderdale, owned by David Beckham, will be hoping so.

The former England captain's second-born son wrote on Instagram: "Blessed to have made my pro debut tonight." Commentators were impressed with his play, and so far, it seems, the young hopeful is justifying his newly-signed contract. 

Oct 27, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; David Beckham and his son Romeo, 17 attend the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports/USA Today Network/Sipa USA)
David and Romeo Beckham. His son is following in his football boots. (PA, Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports/USA Today Network/Sipa USA)

He's far from the only child of a star to follow in a parent's impressive footsteps. This week saw the launch of Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark, starring Michael Gandolfini as a young Tony Soprano - the role in which his late father, James Gandolfini, triumphed. No pressure.

Watch: Michael Gandolfini opens up about the pressure of playing Tony Soprano

Plenty of actors' children follow their parents into the profession. Meryl Streep's daughter Grace Gummer, the spitting image of her award-garlanded mother, appears in series including The Newsroom and American Horror Story, Michael Douglas followed famous dad Kirk into acting, and Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith's children Jaden and Willow, are already seasoned movie and stage pros. 

Ben Stiller's parents were comedians Stiller and Meara, who frequently appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and Gwyneth Paltrow's mum is well known actor Blythe Danner.

Whole dynasties include The Redgraves, the Cusacks and the Baldwins, while Melanie Griffiths is both daughter to Tippi Hedren and mum to Dakota Johnson. 

Kim with her first child North West.
Kim Kardashian and tiny rapper daughter North West (Getty Images)

Singing often runs in the family too, with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's daughter, North West, rapping on stage aged six. JLo's daughter Emme sang at the Superbowl, and Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny, is a well known actor and singer. Second-generation models are lining up, too - Cindy Crawford's daughter Kaia Gerber is almost as famous as her mum, while Helena Christensen's son Mingus made his modelling debut recently, to collective gasps at how alike they look.

The phenomenon isn't strictly limited to glamorous careers, either. Lawyers often raise lawyers, doctors spawn doctors, writers beget writers, and engineers tend to have children interested in engineering.

So is it simply a case of 'if you can see it, you can be it', or are genetics, nurture, encouragement (or pressure) and even the desire to impress a parent all playing a part in children's career choices?

Read more: 23 models who followed in their parents' footsteps

Psychotherapist Becky Goddard-Hill, author of Be Happy Be You, says: "Children see what their parents do and take cues from that. It doesn't have to be about genetics or nurture if they follow our career paths," she insists.

"It can simply be that they have seen the immense joy, financial rewards or opportunities our work bought us and they are inspired to tread the same path. 

"For Romeo Beckham with his positive, successful father who has a fulfilling and diverse career, following in daddy’s footsteps must be hugely enticing and make complete sense."

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 06: Kaia Gerber and Cindy Crawford attend the Women's Guild Cedars-Sinai Annual Luncheon at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on November 06, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Cindy Crawford with mini-me, model daughter Kaia. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic, PA)

Therapist Karen Whybrow believes the the choice can also be driven by the need for approval.

"One of our basic human needs is to fit in and be part of the tribe. Our subconscious mind only wants to keep us safe and in our evolution, being in a group of people would have increased our chances of survival rather than being alone!

"This is further enhanced by the need to be loved and connected as a child - so what better way of getting this love and connection than doing the same thing as those providing our safety and care?"

There's clearly an element of inherited talent and the fostering of interests in childhood, but when whole families follow certain professions, it can be down to a 'perfect storm' of genetics, example, opportunity - and even opening the right doors. 

Research from Facebook data scientists in 2016 looked into the phenomenon and reported, "Even though a child may be much more likely to follow in his or her parents’ footsteps, the absolute percentage may still be quite low. 

Cameron Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas at the Michael Douglas Star Ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Katrina Jordan/Sipa USA)
Michael Douglas with father Kirk and son Cameron. (PA, Photo by Katrina Jordan/Sipa USA)

"A son who has a father in the military is five times more likely to enter the military, but just 25% of sons of a military professional does so." 

Only 3% of dads who worked in farming, fishing and forestry had sons in the same profession, but that's still 7.6 times the overall rate. 

Meanwhile, "8.5% of daughters of mothers in nursing also choose a career in nursing,"- almost four times the overall rate. 

Read more: Children of celebrities who followed in their famous parents' footsteps

"We also see substantial cross-gender occupation 'inheritance', e.g. scientist fathers have scientist daughters at 3.9 the overall rate, while mothers working in law have sons choosing a legal profession at 6.6 times the overall rate."

The study concluded that parental occupation has a noticable effect on career choices - however, researchers added, the 'vast majority' still choose a different path.

The effect seems to be more pronounced when parents have dramatic, very successful, or very unusual careers.

Actress Vanessa Redgrave (left) with her Tony Award for best actress and her sister Lynn Redgrave during the 2003 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, part of the Redgrave acting dynasty. (Getty Images)

"My mum, grandma and great grandma were all healers and psychic mediums and heavily into spirituality," says holistic healer Kristy Lomas. 

"Growing up, I was interested as a young child, and then in my teenage years I moved away from it, as it was 'weird'".

Despite not having been particularly close to her mum, Kristy says, she was drawn to training as a reiki healer and meditation teacher. "I opened my business, The Ki Retreat, because I wanted to help others, but also to try and raise the standards around the 'industry' as you often see a lot of charlatans.

In Kristy's case, she says, "I genuinely believe it is down to genetics, as there wasn't the nurture element, and no desire to make my mother proud."

Vicky Pais comes from a family of lawyers. She says, "I followed both my father, a Scottish Advocate, criminal QC and step-father, a partner in a law firm in London, into the law.

"I am a human rights lawyer and independent human rights consultant. I think it was probably inevitable that I also became a lawyer! Being raised by lawyers has given me skills which have stood me in good stead for my career now."

Vicky Pais
Vicky Pais became a lawyer like her father and step-father (Vicky Pais, supplied)

Teaching, too, tends to be a vocation that runs in the family. 

 "Until I set up my own business, My Mummy Teacher, I was a deputy Headteacher in a primary school," says Ruth Lue-Quee. "My mum was a classroom teacher, my dad was a university lecturer. My grandma was a Headteacher.

"My great grandpa on my mum's side was also a teacher - so I have teaching on both sides. I guess they were my role models and in a sense that would be nurture, too." she adds.

"Teaching has always been my passion and I could never have imagined doing anything else - as a young girl, I asked for a whiteboard for a birthday present one year and remember being so happy spending hours playing teachers with my teddies and getting to use my mum's old registers and exercise books!"

Ruth with her mum and grandma - all teachers! (Supplied, Ruth
Ruth with her mum and grandma - all teachers! (Supplied, Ruth Lue-Quee)

It seems what's driving many of us is partly inherited talent - along with nurture, familiarity, and in many cases, a dollop of approval- seeking. 

"There are numerous examples of children going into the same profession as their parents which could be purely down to nurture," says therapist Geraldine Joaquim.

"We do have a tendency to role model from our parents subconsciously and if the language around the house is geared towards a particular profession then we are literally being primed (even brainwashed?) to follow that path. 

"It’s familiar therefore it’s a simple choice - but that doesn’t make it an easy option, there’s still a lot of hard work involved in actually becoming a doctor or lawyer!" 

She cites examples pf hard work and talent including footballers Harry and Jamie Redknapp, and Princess Anne and Zara Philips, both Olympic-level horse riders.

"All the encouragement in the world would only bring a child up to a certain level of competency – some activities need talent to really excel and that’s inherent nature, not nurture," says Joaquim. 

"Yes they probably do have more encouragement and opportunity from a young age, but ultimately the desire to win and the ability to do it has to come from them."

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