"It’s kind of like carrying on the family business.”
Imagine making a major life decision at the age of 16. A verdict which will ripple across the rest of your life for many British Asians.
Sounds daunting, but this choice is necessary to land one of the safe careers.
Safe careers are common gold dust, each one resembling something greater.
Wealth, as there will be a steady flow of income.
Respect, as that needs to be gained, not bought in any community.
Popularity, as having a profession like medicine or law guarantees someone chasing after you.
These are the traits every British Asian parent dreams for their children.
For some safe careers, like medicine, results at the age of 16 need to be excellent. A grades or A* grades, or the new equivalent which is 7-9 grades.
A level subjects are limited to science, demanding results to be as many A* grades achievable. But it is not just grades that matter. With a career like medicine or dentistry, extracurricular activities count too.
To get admission to an exclusive university such as Oxford or Cambridge (Oxbridge), marks need to be extraordinary. Extracurricular activities need to be abundant without academia being involved.
Top universities love sports more than athletes, theatre more than critics and music more than Julliard.
It sounds stressful. It is stressful.
It apparently mirrors work ethic. Even though this can put so much mental, physical and emotional strain on a person, especially a younger person, these careers are still vehemently sought after.
For many people who have a vague idea of the type of life they would like to live, making that option to pursue a safe career could be limiting.
“I felt a little lost and hopeless when it came to university applications, because I’d always thought I’d find a subject and career path I was wildly passionate about in time for UCAS applications.
“But the only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted a job that would give me the freedom to travel and the possibility to work abroad.”
For other safe careers, where jobs are always in-demand and are considered more respectable, such as law, pharmacy and accountancy – having a strong academic background is desirable.
So, why are safe careers still so popular?
Most parents want their children to succeed, to do better than them and to achieve more than they have.
However, there is a difference.
Immigration is rich in British history. There are more people whose parents have packed their life into three suitcases (sometimes less) and voyaged halfway across the world to seek a better life for themselves and their children.
Their goal is simple: for their children to have access to better education, healthcare and overall a higher standard of living.
Having a child with a safe career ultimately means their goals have been achieved. These jobs are high paying, constant and in-demand.
They ensure a life of comfort, not one where they will have to move to seek a better life elsewhere.
It is traditional in South Asian communities for parents to live with their children in their ‘golden years’. If a child has a steady income, the parents feel more comfortable.
Their child can live a morally and financially good life, and the parents have no trouble in terms of living arrangements and possible financial needs.
Yet, it can go a little deeper. Some children feel forced to do well, to become a doctor or a lawyer due to a lot of pressure from their parents.
Part of this could be for the parents to have ‘bragging rights’ as their child is successful and doing well, which will make them more desirable and influential in their community.
This is not always the case. People may be influenced to follow their parents’ footsteps, becoming white-collar professionals by entering careers which are deemed as ‘respectable’, such as these safe careers.
Anoushka, a dentistry student, decided to pursue this path because her family are dentists. She says:
“It was an environment I was raised in, so I knew how it worked, it’s kind of like carrying on the family business.”
However, even though this was “the family business” she never felt pressured into choosing this career. “I remember it was suggested, not pressured … my dad was like ‘do whatever you want’.”
She preferred this path for a number of reasons, stating:
“It’s very stable, you get a good income and it allows you to have more of a life outside work than medicine or law.”
Although Anoushka is from a family of dentists, the reason why she chose to follow this path was out of choice, not pressure.
Similarly, Rafa’s parents had helped her choose a career which allowed her to have what she wanted in life and something where she could make a difference. She revealed:
“I’d kept an open dialogue throughout this with my parents and it was my dad that pointed me in the direction of radiography.
“A colleague had recently mentioned the course was being funded by the NHS as there was a shortage in England as well as many other countries around the world.
“Thus, there were not only a lot of opportunities for progression but also for working abroad.”
What do the Statistics Say?
According to the 2011 census (next census is 2021) British Asians make up 6.9% of the British population.
So what are the different percentages of British Asians in 5 different safe careers?
Almost one-quarter of the doctors in the NHS are British Asian. It reinforces the extent of British Asians sticking to a safe career, and nothing screams ‘safe career’ than being a doctor.
The results also demonstrate how many British Asians pursue a career in a sector which will always be in-demand.
Research from GOV UK concluded 59.7% of Asian or Asian British participated in the arts post the age of 16.
Previously, it was noted in order for people to pursue safe careers it is recommended for potential students to dabble in extracurricular activities, especially the arts, to reveal all-round talent.
This is an attempt to demonstrate there is more to life than academics.
Of course, it is noteworthy to say these findings were concluded on survey results and therefore may not expose the true picture.
Even so, there is undeniable evidence more British Asians are sticking to safe careers rather than plunging into the arts.
Why is this the case?
Over the past few years, the number of people who are forming a career in the five ‘safe careers’ outlined above has risen.
There is a higher number of the first generation of people who went to university. For example, in law, 59% of partners are first-generation British Asians.
The percentage of British Asians going to university is 64%. A higher number of British Asians are going to Russell Group Universities and more are getting accepted into Oxford and Cambridge.
The number of British Asians graduating university with a 2:1 has increased to 70%.
Even with this increase, there is an overall concern for members of the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity) community who are attending university at a lower rate than their white counterparts and are more likely to drop out.
48% of university students are first-generation. This number has increased in the last decade and could be a contributing factor to why more British Asians are sticking to safe careers.
This increase in British Asians completing university with higher grades could be linked to the increase of Asians opting for a safe career.
One of the major findings from this study is diverse role models. British Asians are feeling more comfortable at university, with more members of BAME staff in a range of subjects.
Students have reported feeling more comfortable about talking to a member of staff for support.
Universities create an environment of choice. Students can figure out if the subject they are studying is right for them.
Jay, a biological sciences student, always loved science as a subject at school and wanted to create a career from it. He chose engineering. He states:
“I was 18 and naïve, engineering was a practical career, where I could apply science to my everyday life.”
Later, he realised he did not enjoy the subject and dropped it to pursue biological sciences. Jay says:
“Engineering was very math-based and I did not enjoy it as a lifestyle.
“I wanted to pursue an area of science where I could help people, so engineering wasn’t for me.
“With this degree (biological sciences), I can go into medicine. I can have my love of science and want of interacting and helping people and create a lifestyle.”
University is an environment allowing people to discover their passion, and provides an option to continue pursuing their current or different path.
Sticking to safe careers is popular amongst British Asian students as they provide good incomes leading to good lifestyles.
With support gained from staff coupled with students understanding their own passion, a lot of British Asians are sticking to safe careers out of choice, rather than tradition.
Are the Arts Suffering?
An article by Vice interviews a British Asian contemporary artist, Hardeep Pandhal, who discusses some pitfalls of the creative industry.
He says, rather in a blasé tone, “parents often think a career in the arts will not bring any money.”
This loops back into family influence. Parents want their children to succeed financially.
However, it raises an issue of representation in these sectors. There are fewer British Asians in the film industry with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities (BAME) making up 3% of filmmakers.
Our society is progressing. People are demanding more representation, taking to social media to unleash their concerns.
But if fewer Asians are pursuing the arts, executing these demands will be snuffed out.
A battle for representation will stagger and stutter until there is no more traction. The artists who do remain may be left in a worse situation than before.
Of course, parents may be less reluctant against the arts if there is proof their child is a huge star.
Not every British Asian is in a ‘safe career’ or in the arts.
GOV UK, in 2018, reported only 66% of British Asians were in employment, which is roughly 2,084,600 people. 34% of people may be studying or unemployed.
The British Asians who fall between the gaps, so to speak, maybe are employed or studying for other careers, such as business, hospitality or retail.
These careers are excellent choices, but unfortunately, they do not offer ‘bragging rights.’
However, they are necessary. They fill roles and lifestyles which complement each other and shows the wonder behind British society.
The myth is true.
British Asians are sticking to safe careers. We have noticed a solemn decline in the arts industry and a bountiful increase in sectors such as law and healthcare.
It can be said, British Asians are sticking to safe career paths.