Middle school children's career aspirations: relationship to adult occupations and gender.

Author:Schuette, Christine T.

The authors explored the relationship between (he career aspirations of" 89 pre-adolescents from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the actual occupations of the working adults in their homes with regard to status, job gender identification, and interest (Holland, 1997). There was a significant relationship between boys' career aspirations and the occupations of the working male adults in their homes, specifically job gender identification and interest. More adult males had stereotypieally male jobs--classified as Realistic by Holland (1997)--that was mirrored in the preadolescent boys" career aspirations. There were no significant matches between the boys and working women or with the girls and the working adults of either gender.

Keywords: preadolescent occupational aspirations, career self-efficacy, gender stereotypes

In the last decade, there has been an increase in the amount of research on career development in childhood (for reviews, see Hartung, Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2005; Watson & McMahon, 2005). Whereas much of the past occupational research has been focused on adolescents and adults, more recently, researchers have established a need to understand the developmental trajectory of occupational aspirations (Par-fell, Hartung, & Vondraeek, 2008) or an individual's desired or ideal occupation (Rojewski, 2007). Although it has not been firmly established that occupational aspirations have predictive validity, they are believed to be a determinant of the choice of course work and educational goals that shape the individual's pursuit of a future career (Rojewski, 2007). Researchers believed that parents have a signilicant influence on children's occupational aspirations (Schultheiss, 2007) and serve as influential role models for children as they consider future career directions (Watt, 2008); thus, it is essential to consider the impact of parental occupations.

One of the most prominent and well-cited theories that attempts to explain the development of children's career aspirations is that of Gottfredson (198 1, 2005), Gottfredson's theory involves a process that is labeled as circumscription or "eliminating occupational alternatives that conflict with self-concept" (Gottfredson, 2005, p. 77). According to Gottfredson (2005), middle school children are in an "orientation to social valuation" (p. 79) stage during which they understand their socioeconomic status and it becomes a part of their reference group. Gottfredson concluded that children from low socioeconomic status groups do not aspire to hold more prestigious occupations than do their parents because they fear estrangement or risk of failure, and they begin to restrict their occupational preferences and choices. In addition to social evaluation and awareness of the prestige of occupations, children in this age group also categorize and limit occupations by gender roles and sex type. Although several recent studies have found empirical support for Gottfredson's theory (Helwig, 2001; Tracey, 2001), one criticism of this theory is that it "falls short of a multifaceted view of childhood career development" (Schultheiss, 2008, p. 14). An important direction for future research is to focus on students from low socioeconomic backgrounds so that interventions can be targeted to enhance the career development of children who may be at risk for academic failure (Rojewski, 2007; Schultheiss, 2008; Schultheiss, Palma, & Manzi, 2005). We tested Gottfredson's theory by determining whether the aspirations of a middle school sample of preadolescents from low socioeconomic backgrounds were matched to the actual occupations of in-home working adults.

Trice and Knapp (1992) also sought to examine the relationship between adolescents' occupational choices and those of their parents. They developed a three-tiered coding system for job status based upon the work of Gottfredson (1981) and coded interest according to a classification developed by Holland (1985). They reported that there was more similarity between children's aspirations and their mothers' occupations than there was with their fathers' occupations. This was true even though more of the fathers than the mothers in their sample held jobs of higher prestige. Our study was an extension of their work and explored whether their findings regarding the impact of the mother's occupation was a continuing trend today specifically with respect to women who worked outside of the home.

Another study that guided our research and was influential in shaping our methodology was the work of Phipps (1995), who interviewed a diverse population of preadolescents about their career aspirations. Participants provided a justification for their future careers, and their reasons were coded as economics, skills, altruism, role models, or interests. Phipps found that there was a difference in reasoning about future aspirations, with boys more frequently discussing interests, skills, economics, and role models and girls more often referring to the desire to help others (Phipps, 1995). Furthermore, when compared with children from high socioeconomic backgrounds, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds were motivated by role models or by economics. This study, like that of Trice and Knapp (1992), demonstrated that there arc societal influences (e.g., role models, gender, socioeconomic status) on children's career development learning; therefore, the study of children's reasoning about future occupations warrants further investigation to explore the existence and dominance of such factors (Schultheiss et al., 2005; Watson & McMahon, 2005).

According to Watson and McMahon (2005), although research has established that parental role models have a significant societal influence, the nature of exactly how parental occupations influence children's career development is unclear. Our study focused on several aspects of working adult occupations (i.e., status, interest, and stereotypic nature) and examined their relationship with middle school students1 career aspirations.

We hypothesized that there would be a connection between the status of the preadolescents' aspirations and the status of the working adult's job in keeping with Gottfredson's (1981, 2005) theory. More specifically, we expected a correlation in status between boys and male working adults and girls and female working adults. Based upon Holland's (1985) interest classification, we also predicted that the interests of girls would correlate with those of female working adults as Trice and Knapp (1992) found.

Our hypotheses regarding the impact of gender stereotypes on the preadolescents' job aspirations were shaped by the research of Liben, Bigler, and Krogh (2001). We predicted that the majority of preadolescents would choose stereotypically male or neutral occupations rather than stereotypically female occupations because stereotypically female occupations are considered to be of lower status in U.S. society (Liben et al., 2001). Additionally, we expected that more girls than boys would choose cross-gender jobs because research has established that it is more acceptable for girls to engage in cross-gender behavior than it is for boys (Schuette & Ivillen, 2009) to do so.

Finally, because there is less research on children's reasoning about their future occupations (Liben et at., 2001; Schulthciss et al., 2005), we expected to find...

To continue reading