They love Nicki Minaj and Adele – but where are the real guides for girls?

Survey links narrow range of inspirational figures to stereotypical career ambitions

They look to Cheryl Cole, Katy Perry, Jessie J and Adele for their role models. But few girls can identify any successful businesswomen and most failed to name a single sportswoman.

According to a report by Girlguiding UK, the Disney starlets Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez were role models for children aged seven to 11, while teens admired the Harry Potter actress Emma Watson and the singer Nicki Minaj.

The study concluded that the narrow range of female role models available to girls and young women was linked to the limited and stereotypical aspirations they had for their future.

Researchers noted as "worrying" the assumption by girls that sportswomen were less successful than sportsmen, despite dozens of British female world, Olympic and Paralympic champions in recent years.

Television shows such as Jersey Shore and Skins were found to be hugely influential in shaping girls' views of relationships with boys and their own behaviour. Some of those interviewed could name a handful of successful businesswomen, whom they respected for what they had achieved but found it hard to relate to on a personal level.

The researchers said: "The danger is that many celebrities are at a different life stage to the girls who seek to emulate them. Girls know little about the reality of their lives, so their behaviour is seen without context and appears free from consequences. When this is combined with reality programming that also normalises behaviours such as promiscuity or excessive consumption of alcohol, the result in the 'real world' of girls' experience is that the normalisation of sexual relationships in Year 10 [15-year-olds], for example, becomes as unexceptional as the aspiration to become a pop star or be on TV."

Often girls would cite women from the entertainment industry who had branched out into business, such as Lily Allen, but researchers argued that this risked distancing their view of business from their everyday life.

The study also found that girls and young women dismiss careers such as engineering or construction as "jobs for boys", and instead wanted to be actors, singers, writers, dancers or fashion designers, often inspired by celebrities whom they admire. One girl told researchers: "Part of my architecture course is engineering and I actually hate it. I don't want to know anything to do with soils, the ground or rocks."

The findings were drawn from six focus groups of 39 girls and young women aged seven to 21, which were run by Childwise – an independent market research agency.