Dispositional affect and career barriers: the moderating roles of gender and coping.

Author:Novakovic, Alexandra

This study examined whether gender and coping efficacy for career barriers moderated the relationship between both positive and negative dispositional affect and perceptions of career barriers. The sample included 294 undergraduate students (195 women, 99 men) from a large, midwestern university. Gender and coping efficacy did not moderate the relationship between negative dispositional affect and perceptions of career barriers. Coping efficacy for career barriers did moderate the relationship between positive dispositional affect and perceptions of career barriers for both women and men in different directions. When investigating women separately, the results revealed a weakening of the negative beta weight between positive affect and perception of career barriers as coping scores increased. An opposite effect was found for men; there was a reduction of the positive beta weight between positive affect and perception of career barriers as coping scores increased. Interventions to address perceptions of career barriers based on gender and dispositional affect are discussed.

Keywords: dispositional affect, career barriers, coping efficacy, gender


Dispositional affect refers to an individual's tendency to respond to situations with a positive or negative emotional approach (Watson & Clark, 1984). It is different from mood because it is considered more pervasive and does not change according to the situation. Those with negative affect are more likely to experience distress in any given situation, whereas those with positive affect are more likely to experience satisfaction and well-being (Watson & Clark, 1984). Although it has been suggested that dispositional affect might play a role in how individuals perceive career barriers and their abilities to cope with them (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994, 2000), there is a lack of empirical research to demonstrate these relationships. Attention to dispositional affect can assist career counselors in understanding how clients perceive barriers, in addition to their willingness and ability to cope with them to achieve career goals (Lent et ah, 1994, 2000). The present study examined the relationships between positive and negative dispositional affect, perceptions of career barriers, and coping efficacy for career barriers. We also examined gender differences in the relationship among the variables because perceptions of barriers and coping efficacy can potentially vary widely because of experiences of discrimination in the workplace (Welle & Heilman, 2007).

Perception of Career Barriers

The concept of perceived barriers "implies that the career-related barriers an individual believes currently exist or may be encountered in the future are not necessarily grounded in reality or based on factual information" (Albert & Luzzo, 1999, p. 431). Perceived career barriers may cause people to underestimate their own abilities and overlook career options and opportunities. For example, previous studies have demonstrated that greater perceptions of career barriers had a negative relationship with aspects of career aspirations (e.g., Kenny, Blustein, Chaves, Grossman, & Gallagher, 2003). There is also evidence of gender and ethnic differences in perceptions of career barriers. For example, women and ethnic minorities expected to encounter more career barriers than men and White/European American students (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001), whereas Black/African American women perceived significantly greater career barriers than White/European American and Hispanic women (Lopez & Ann-Yi, 2006). Mexican American college students who perceived career barriers were significantly more likely to foreclose on career choices (Leal-Muniz & Constantine, 2005), whereas Mexican American women who perceived fewer barriers chose more prestigious careers (Flores & O'Brien, 2002). Considering that perceptions of career barriers can negatively affect career development for women and ethnic minorities, it is crucial to develop an understanding of individuals' perceptions of career barriers as well as their abilities to cope with them.

Dispositional Affect

Lent et al. (2000) suggested that the personal qualities of individuals, such as dispositional affect, might affect how they perceive career barriers. Dispositional affect has been studied in relation to a number of aspects of career development, such as perceptions of college success, productive work habits, job satisfaction, and lower likelihood of unemployment (Diener, Nickerson, Lucas, & Sandvik, 2002; Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005; Nickerson, Diener, & Schwarz, 2011).

Although career barriers can be overcome, it often depends on the specific barrier and the personal characteristics of the individual (Swanson and Woitke, 1997). Within the context of social cognitive career theory (SCCT), Lent et al. (1994, 2000) suggested that dispositional affect might influence the way that individuals understand information related to self-efficacy. For example, they might negatively judge self-efficacy enhancing events and thus miss out on opportunities to build self-efficacy. In addition, they hypothesized that perceptions of barriers might influence the formation of goals through self-efficacy.

The relationship between dispositional affect and coping efficacy has been established with various health- and wellness-related variables (e.g., Chartier, Gaudreau, & Fecteau, 2011; Nes & Segerstrom, 2006). To date, no studies could be located that investigated the relationship between both positive and negative dispositional affect and coping efficacy for career barriers.

Coping Efficacy for Career Barriers

Coping efficacy refers to an individual's belief in his or her ability to cope with difficult situations or tasks (Bandura, 1997). In relation to career barriers, coping efficacy refers to "one's perceived capability to negotiate particular situational features that obstruct or complicate performance" (Lent et al., 2000, p. 46). For example, career barriers among academically gifted students were negatively related to coping efficacy, and coping efficacy was positively related to outcome expectations for careers (Perrone, Civiletto, Webb, & Fitch, 2004). Ethnic minority students were found to perceive more career-related barriers than European American students and also demonstrated lower self-efficacy for coping with career barriers (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001).

Purpose of the Study

According to SCCT, personal, environmental, and behavioral factors influence self-efficacy development, as well as expectations of outcomes and, ultimately, goals and performance. In addition, SCCT addresses how individuals' contextual environments both positively and negatively influence aspects of their career development. The theory posits that contextual barriers can influence career development in two ways. The first is through personal, environmental, and behavioral background factors that affect self-efficacy development, as well as expectations of outcomes. The second is by moderating the pathways between career interests, choice goals, and actions (Lent et al., 1994, 2000). Because of its attention to the role of personal inputs to career...

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