EDUCATION

“When I grow up, I want to be like Zara founder Amancio Ortega”

Thousands of Spanish teens have named their role models in a survey with surprising answers

Many Spanish teenagers can provide remarkably specific answers to the question: “What public figure do you want to be like when you grow up?” A survey conducted in March among 12,000 Spaniards between 16 and 19 years of age yielded some surprising results.

Amancio Ortega lounging on his luxury yacht Valoria.
Amancio Ortega lounging on his luxury yacht Valoria.Cordon Press

The public figure that cropped up most often among the 5,800 teens who answered that particular question was Amancio Ortega, founder of Inditex, the fashion empire that owns popular brands like Zara. The Galicia-born entrepreneur regularly tops the global wealth charts.

But there were also answers such as “I want to be ambassador in London,” “Some archeologist or other,” and “I want to be like that group of TV hosts on shows where they do nothing but talk about other people’s lives and earn really good salaries.”

Yet others stuck closer to home: “On March 16, 2017 [the day of the survey], I have no valid references. If anything, the endurance and love of my aitas [Basque for parents].”

The survey shows that girls often choose men as their role models, while boys do not choose women

The end of adolescence has always been a difficult period, and the survey conducted by Educa 20.20 and the Axa Foundation reflects that. But it was the open-ended question about role models that yielded the most fascinating results.

Amancio Ortega was not just popular among boys – he ranked third after Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. The retiring 81-year-old entrepreneur was the most recurring public figure mentioned by girls, whose second most popular choice was a tie between “my mother” and the actress Emma Watson.

The answers also show that girls often choose men as their role models, while boys do not choose women. Among the 100 role models who were mentioned by respondents, there were three times as many men as women.

Silvia Claveria, a researcher at Carlos III University, is not surprised.

“There is a shortage of female role models that you can look up to, and that is why it’s so important to have women in politics, and for awards to observe gender parity,” she says.

That trend is replicated at the family level: 2.3% of boys and 2.2% of girls said they would like to be like their father. But for every eight girls who look up to their mother, only one boy does.

Among boys, 15% chose business leaders as their role models, compared with 8% of girls. The second most-popular choice among girls were celebrities from the entertainment industry, followed by their own parents. Boys chose athletes in second place, and many of them also looked up to technology gurus and video game developers. Many girls turned to the fields of culture, fashion, architecture and science, saying they wanted to be “a successful lawyer,” a researcher, a doctor or a teacher.

The predominance of business leaders could also be influenced by the fact that the question came at the end of a questionnaire about teenagers’ future plans for studying and working.

One respondent said they wanted to be like “Trump (I love his superb hair)”

“If the questions made you think about money, creature comforts and uncertainty, it is easier to summon up images of clearly successful public figures than those with a more adventurous, risky background,” notes Alberto Penadés, who teaches at Salamanca University.

A few of the answers seem like little more than teenager provocations: there were mentions of Franco, Hitler, Stalin and the porn actor Nacho Vidal. Someone said “Trump (I love his superb hair).”

There were, in fact, very few politicians on the list, and the three top ones were Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Michelle Obama. The top Spanish politician mentioned was Mariano Rajoy, the current prime minister. And just a handful of respondents evidenced a taste for highbrow culture, citing the painter Gustav Klimt, the music conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the filmmaker Andrei Tarkovski.

English version by Susana Urra.

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