Career Decision Self-Efficacy of Asian American Students: The Role of Curiosity and Ethnic Identity.

Author:Kim, Young Hwa

This study examined the role of curiosity and ethnic identity in career decision self-efficacy among Asian American college students. Given that curiosity can promote the process of exploring one's possible future self, opportunities, and career goals, the authors hypothesized that curiosity would be associated with career decision self-efficacy, directly or indirectly, through a sense of ethnic identity. Results based on data from 425 Asian American incoming first-year college students suggest that students with high curiosity tend to present a stronger sense of competence in completing career decision-related tasks. These findings also confirmed a hypothesis that ethnic identity mediates the association between curiosity and career decision self-efficacy. Implications for future research and career counseling with Asian American college students are discussed.

Keywords: Asian American, ethnic identity, curiosity, career decision self-efficacy, career counseling


Despite strong cultural expectations of vocational success within the Asian community (Kim, Atkinson, & Yang, 1999), Asian American college students are likely to encounter complicated challenges in the pursuit of their career goals. These challenges may include pressure to fulfill their parents' desires, conflicting cultural values, racial inequality in the labor market, and limited social support for pursuing nontraditional career paths (Ma, Desai, George, San Filippo, & Varon, 2014). These barriers can manifest as internalized stereotypes or feelings of powerlessness that limit the ability of Asian American college students to explore diverse occupations and choose careers (Shen, Liao, Abraham, & Weng, 2014). For example, a recent study showed that Asian American first-year college students presented a lower level of career self-efficacy than did White or African American students (Lewis, Raque-Bogdan, Lee, & Rao, 2018). Thus, it is important to investigate how Asian American college students build a sense of competence as they navigate the myriad career choices available to them. Given the increasing interest in understanding the positive role of individual traits in the development of career self-efficacy beliefs (Bullock-Yowell, Andrews, & Buzzetta, 2011; Penn & Lent, 2018), the present study aimed to explore how the trait of curiosity is associated with career decision self-efficacy via a sense of ethnic identity among Asian American college students.

Career Decision Self-Efficacy

Career decision self-efficacy refers to individuals' beliefs about their ability to complete career-related tasks (Betz, Klein, & Taylor, 1996). Career decision self-efficacy helps college students explore diverse career paths, formulate career goals, and make career-relevant decisions (Lent & Brown, 2013). Lent and Brown's (2013) social cognitive career theory (SCCT) model identified career decision self-efficacy as a key factor in the facilitation of adaptive career behaviors. A meta-analysis by Choi et al. (2012) revealed a positive association between career decision self-efficacy and vocational identity and a negative association between career decision self-efficacy and career indecision. Asian American college students with low career decision self-efficacy may present an unclear sense of their career goals, negative expectations about career outcomes, and maladaptive vocational behaviors. Tang, Fouad, and Smith (1999) found career self-efficacy beliefs in favor of traditional occupations to be a strong predictor of Asian American college students' career choices even when career interests did not predict those choices. Their finding supports the notion that self-efficacy plays a key role in the career decision-making process of Asian American college students.

Career decision self-efficacy beliefs are influenced by personal attributes derived from genetic dispositions and early learning experiences (Lent & Brown, 2013; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). Personality traits such as extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness can facilitate the growth of self-efficacy by helping individuals engage in active planning or goal-setting (Bullock-Yowell et al., 2011; Jin, Watkins, & Yuen, 2009). Similarly, proactive personality traits (i.e., a tendency to take action to influence environments) have been positively associated with career self-efficacy in a sample of Taiwanese college students (Hsieh & Huang, 2014). These findings support the idea that personality traits that help individuals seek out new information and ideas are likely to promote competence in exploring career options and making choices. Yet, little research has investigated the role of different types of personality traits because empirical studies have been focused mainly on testing the effect of the Big Five personality traits on career outcomes (Lent & Brown, 2013).


Curiosity is a core psychological trait that motivates people to explore new information and make sense of their environment (Kashdan & Steger, 2007). As the occupational world becomes more diverse and complex, curiosity is gaining increased attention in the vocational literature. Particularly, career construction theory highlights the fundamental function of curiosity in exploring possible future selves, roles, and opportunities (Savickas, 2013). Empirical findings also have supported the hypothesis that career curiosity, which is a major aspect of career adaptability, is lacking among individuals with foreclosed identity who may adopt conferred goals rather than actively explore diverse options (Porfeli & Savickas, 2012). Accordingly, the present study focused on curiosity as a critical personal variable and core component of career adaptability that influences adaptive vocational behaviors of Asian American students. We particularly conceptualized curiosity as a motivational mechanism that enables people to "actively [seek] opportunities for new information and experiences" and "embrace uncertain and unpredictable nature of everyday life" (Kashdan et al., 2009, p. 989). College students with high levels of curiosity are likely to have open and receptive attitudes toward new ideas and to pursue growth-oriented behaviors (Kashdan & Steger, 2007). Curiosity also facilitates students' engagement in novel and challenging learning experiences that stretch their existing skills and knowledge (Kashdan & Yuen, 2007).

Curiosity is moderately correlated with openness to experience (r = .55 in Kashdan et al., 2009), which has been found to be associated with career decision self-efficacy (Jin, Watkins, & Yuen, 2009). Although linked to the personality trait of openness, curiosity reflects a more active attitude of seeking out novelty and challenges to one's views rather than simply being open to new experiences. A previous study showed that curiosity is associated with other personality traits and daily mood but can also predict meaning in life and life satisfaction after controlling for the effects of the Big Five personality traits and positive mood (Kashdan & Steger, 2007). These findings support curiosity as a distinct trait that may motivate individuals to actively explore diverse occupational opportunities and to embrace uncertainty in the career decisionmaking process. Thus, the present study evolved from the hypothesis that curiosity is positively related to career decision self-efficacy beliefs of Asian American students.

Ethnic Identity

For Asian American students, vocational behaviors might vary depending on cultural values, attitudes, and identities (Leong, Hardin, & Gupta, 2010). Additionally, Asian American college students' experiences of acculturation and family involvement can lead to exposure to different sources of efficacy information (e.g., social support for pursuing traditional career paths). Thus, we focused on ethnic identity of Asian American college students as a reflection of how they perceive their Asian heritage in an immediate social and cultural environment and whether this identity is associated with career self-efficacy.

Ethnic identity refers to an individual's sense of self as a member of an ethnic group and the attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors associated with group membership (Phinney & Ong, 2007). Adolescence and young adulthood are considered critical developmental periods for exploring the meaning of one's ethnic group membership and for establishing a stable and secure sense of self in relation to one's ethnicity. Asian American college students are likely to develop their ethnic identity by seeking information and experiences relevant to ethnicity in their environments, forming a sense of belonging to a group, and participating in cultural events or practice (Cheryan & Tsai, 2006; Phinney & Ong, 2007). Asian American college students with stronger ethnic identities tend to report a stronger sense of belonging and connectedness to the social environment (Lee & Yoo, 2004). Thus, we theorized that ethnic identity could provide students with an awareness of the meaning of ethnic membership in the arena of work and careers and with social support for managing challenging tasks involved in the career development process.

Several studies have linked ethnic identity to vocational attitudes and behaviors among Asian American students. For example, in a study of first-year college students, Asian American students with stronger ethnic identity reported a more firm sense of career choices and placed more importance on their careers (Duffy & Klingaman, 2009). Students with a stronger sense of ethnic identity might have a more established sense of self in general and more energy to explore their vocational goals (Duffy & Klingaman, 2009). In addition, Asian American students' awareness of their race/ethnicity, as measured by racial identity, has been positively related to their career maturity (Carter & Constantine, 2000). Lewis et al. (2018)...

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