Children's Career Expectations and Parents' Jobs: Intergenerational (Dis)continuities.

Author:Oliveira, Iris M.

Children develop career expectations as they increase self-knowledge and perceive societal affordances and barriers to life roles. Parents are powerful agents in the socialization of children to work, transmitting occupational concepts that influence children's career development. The authors used Gottfredson's (1981) and Holland's (1973) theories to test associations between children's career expectations and parents' jobs in terms of gender, prestige, and interest typology among same-sex and cross-sex child-parent dyads. Data were collected from 185 Portuguese children (51.4% boys, 48.6% girls; [M.sub.age] = 10.41 years) from 2-parent families. Children reported their parents' jobs and shared personal career expectations. Correlation and linear regression results indicated that fathers' male-dominated jobs put boys at risk of gender-based circumscription of career expectations. An intergenerational cycle of prestige inequalities was also evidenced, although parents seemed to support children's exploration of various interest areas. Future research could explore these relationships across family structures. Practice should foster children's in-breadth career exploration and engage parents as key partners.

Keywords: childhood career development, career expectations, family, parents, intergenerational occupational transmission


Career aspirations rank among the most investigated variables in the child career development literature (Hartung, Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2005; Oliveira, Porfeli, & Taveira, 2017). Aspirations focus on children's ideals related to educational and career attainment and are associated with career outcomes in adulthood (Cochran, Wang, Stevenson, Johnson, & Crews, 2011). However, less attention has been devoted to children's expectations. Expectations refer to the education level or job(s) children anticipate attaining based on perceived social influences and their understanding of personal characteristics within contextual affordances (Howard, Flanagan, Castine, & Walsh, 2015; Marques, Silva, Oliveira, Silva, & Taveira, 2017; Rojewski, 2007). Given the need to expand research on children's career expectations and to systematically promote their career development, we examined associations between children's career expectations and parents' jobs in terms of gender, prestige, and interest typology.

Parental Influence on Children's Career Aspirations and Expectations

Gottfredson (1981) offered a theory of circumscription and compromise to explain the development of children's career aspirations and expectations from fantasy-based conceptions into reality-based expectations. The circumscription process involves children adjusting career aspirations into expectations as a consequence of an emerging psychosocial self. This psychosocial self emerges from ongoing experiences that signal activities compatible with personal characteristics, which are affirmed or rejected within the social context. According to the theory, gender and prestige are two essential dimensions of compatibility. Activities congruent with personal characteristics and affirmed within the social structure defined by gender and socioeconomic status tend to be maintained and cultivated, whereas those that do not are diminished or eliminated entirely (Gottfredson, 1981). During the compromise process, children revise the remaining acceptable alternatives and constrain them within a cognitive map of acceptable and possible occupations (Gottfredson, 1996). Hence, career expectations include a narrowed set of career alternatives deemed acceptable and possible to the child.

Gottfredson (1996) suggested that "children tend to recreate the social order of their elders" (p. 182). Such a suggestion illustrates the sociological roots of this theory and its elaboration via Holland's theory. Holland (1973) acknowledged the possibility that children interact with specific environments and personalities (i.e., Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional; RIASEC) in the family setting and might, therefore, develop choices similar to those of their parents. This aspect of both theories suggests that conceptions of work are transmitted across generations (i.e., intergenerational occupational transmission; Oren, Caduri, & Tziner, 2013). Intergenerational occupational transmission seems aligned with research supporting the central role of the family in the socialization of children to work (Bryant, Zvonkovic, & Reynolds, 2006). Parents have been shown to affect children's career aspirations and expectations by serving as role models and by encouraging career exploration and career-related conversations (e.g., Liu, McMahon, & Watson, 2015; Young et al., 1997). Still, discontinuities in children's expectations and parents' jobs are commonplace (Helwig, 2008). Several factors may contribute to those discontinuities, such as children's in-breadth career exploration and parents' nontraditional work attitudes (Fulcher & Coyle, 2011). Hence, the family is a meaningful but indeterminate context for children's career development.

The literature has highlighted the capacity of the family to cultivate children's broad and deep interests as a protective factor from the anxiety triggered by contemporary society (Kenny, Blustein, & Meerkins, 2018). Thus, the family holds the potential to expand children's interests and to foster their career adaptability (Ginevra, Annovazzi, Santilli, Di Maggio, & Camussi, 2018). Previous research on children's career aspirations and expectations has suggested that parents can nurture children's enrollment in and exploration of multiple RIASEC environments (Liu et al., 2015; Oliveira et al., 2017). Nurturing practices may include enabling children's participation in community activities, supporting children's exposure to family and community members' careers, using gender-balanced language in conversations with children, and being responsive to children's curiosity (Peila-Shuster, 2018). Still, parents can alternatively limit children's experiences to particular settings within more specific and familiar RIASEC environments (Liu et al., 2015). As "children absorb messages that serve to encourage or discourage, motivate or demotivate, liberate or oppress" (Peila-Shuster, 2018, p. 460), they may or may not be afforded opportunities to broaden their career exploration and, consequently, be more or less likely to demonstrate intergenerational transmission of occupational concepts from their parents in terms of gender, prestige, and RIASEC types.

Gender, Prestige, and Vocational Interests

Considering such dimensions, gender continues to play a powerful role in the distribution of people within the workforce (Luke & Redekop, 2014). Many jobs continue to show male (e.g., auto mechanics) and female (e.g., preschool teachers) dominance in the workforce. These gender disparities have been traced back to gendered career aspirations during childhood (Corrigall & Konrad, 2007; Lee, Lawson, & McHale, 2015). Sons' aspirations for male-dominated occupations have been related to their fathers' employment in male-dominated jobs (Schuette, Ponton, & Charlton, 2012). In contrast, girls seem to demonstrate flexibility by aspiring to and perceiving themselves as competent in male-dominated jobs (David, Paixao, & Silva, 2015; Lawson, Lee, Crouter, & McHale, 2018). Girls' flexibility in gendered career stereotypes might be associated with their parental support for career exploration across gendered boundaries and their increased time spent in male-dominated leisure activities from middle childhood through adolescence (e.g., Croft, Schmader, Block, & Baron, 2014; Lee, Skinner, & McHale, 2018).

Akin to the gendered nature of the workforce, career attainment is also influenced by the socioeconomic status of the family (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2018). Research has shown that children's aspirations are positively related to parents' occupational status (Gutman & Schoon, 2012), perhaps due to social class largely defining one's access to education and social networks (Diemer & Ali, 2009). Across generations, the rich remain rich and the poor remain poor. This prevailing pattern seems rooted in the differential opportunity structure offered to children by their family and community. For example, parental unemployment has been related to children's negative work-related attitudes (Bryant et al., 2006; Faria, 2013). Children from less affluent backgrounds and ethnic minorities have also been shown to perceive more career barriers and to more likely circumscribe career aspirations and expectations compared with their peers from affluent backgrounds and ethnic majorities (Hartung et al., 2005; Joshi & Bakshi, 2016).

Additionally, following Holland's (1973) assertion that the family is an important context for the formation of interests, research has suggested positive associations among sons' Realistic and Enterprising aspirations and their fathers' Realistic and Enterprising jobs (Schuette et al., 2012). Similarly, research has demonstrated a continuity in Realistic interests across generations of grandfathers, fathers, and sons (Helwig, 2008). However, the role of mothers' jobs in offspring's career aspirations and expectations is less documented because of the more recent dominance of paid work in the lives of women. Hence, dual-income families are now commonplace, and children are likely affected by both parents.

Purpose of the Study

Acknowledging the existing gaps in the literature on children's career expectations and intergenerational occupational transmission, we examined if and how mothers' and fathers' jobs are associated with the nature of children's career expectations along gender...

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