Family-of-Origin Influence on Career Thoughts.

Author:Lustig, Daniel

The family can exert an important influence on career decision making. This study investigated the impact of adaptability and cohesion in family-of-origin relationships on dysfunctional career thoughts in 269 college students (221 women, 48 men). The Career Thoughts Inventory and the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Scales--IV were used to assess family dynamics and dysfunctional career thoughts. The study addressed the following research question: What is the impact of family cohesion and adaptability in the participant's family of origin on dysfunctional career thoughts, specifically decision-making confusion, commitment anxiety, and external conflict? Results revealed that higher levels of family cohesion were associated with lower levels of decision-making confusion, commitment anxiety, and external conflict and that higher levels of family adaptability were associated with lower levels of external conflict.

Keywords: career decision making, career thoughts, family of origin, family cohesion, adaptability


The relational theory of working (Blustein, 2011) proposes that interpersonal relationships are essential to development of a meaningful work life. Family of origin provides critical interpersonal relationships for understanding vocational development (Blustein, 2011; Schultheiss, 2003). Family relationship dynamics, such as parent--child attachment, parental support, family cohesion, enmeshment, expressiveness, and conflict, have been found to influence a variety of career constructs (e.g., Shin & Kelly, 2013; Whiston & Keller, 2004), and research provides support for the family of origin as an important contextual influence on the career decision-making process (Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, & Lenz, 2004; Schultheiss, 2003). It has been suggested that the family of origin provides an important locus for development of effective career decision-making skills that individuals access as they move into adulthood and start to make important career decisions (Bryant, Zvonkovic, & Reynolds, 2006). In the current study, we investigated the relationship between family-of-origin cohesion and adaptability and one's ability to make effective career decisions. In so doing, we sought to build on prior studies that have examined such links (e.g., Hartung, Lewis, May, & Niles, 2002; Johnson, Buboltz, & Nichols, 1999).

Family of Origin and Career Development

The rationale for investigating the relationship between family-of-origin dynamics and career development for college students is based on two considerations. First, the extant theory and research on family influences on career development (Blustein, 2001, 2004, 2006; Kenny & Medvide, 2013) and the time spent with one's family of origin provide a basis for advancing the idea that family-of-origin relationships are central to the development of important career tasks encountered by young adults. For example, Bryant et al. (2006) identified parents' responsiveness to their child's needs as affecting the development of the child's ability to engage in vocational exploration activities. Second, developmental career tasks encountered by young adults (e.g., integrating changing employment trends, societal needs, and economic conditions into career plans; National Career Development Association, 2017) can be understood within the context of the family life cycle (McGoldrick & Shibusawa, 2012). From a family life cycle perspective, the primary task for young adults in college is to weigh the consequences of their independence versus dependence from their family (e.g., "Should I challenge my parents' ideas about appropriate college majors?") as they enter the world of work and career. These decisions (e.g., "What are appropriate college majors?" or "How many hours should I work while in school?") are influenced by the nature of their family-of-origin relationships (McGoldrick & Shibusawa, 2012).

Research has demonstrated a relationship between constructive family cohesion and adaptability and career constructs. In research involving college students, functional family cohesion is associated with vocational identity, career decision-making self-efficacy, and more functional career thoughts (Guay, Senecal, Gauthier, & Fernet, 2003; Johnson et al., 1999; Kinnier, Brigman, & Noble, 1990; Penick & Jepsen, 1992; Shin & Kelly, 2013). In Guay et al.'s (2003) study of 834 college students, participants from families that were more controlling and less supportive of members' autonomy experienced less perceived competence related to career decision-making activities. Kinnier et al.'s (1990) study of 604 college students found that individuals from families with unhealthy levels of cohesion (i.e., enmeshed) were more likely to experience difficulty making career decisions. Research also supports the relationship between healthy parental attachment and career constructs such as career search self-efficacy, career decidedness, and vocational self-concept (O'Brien, Friedman, Tipton, & Linn, 2000; Scott & Church, 2001; Tokar, Withrow, Hall, & Moradi, 2003). For example, in a study of mostly Caucasian women in their 20s, O'Brien et al. (2000) found that greater attachment to parents was associated with higher levels of career self-efficacy. Scott and Church (2001) studied primarily Caucasian undergraduate students and found a significant positive relationship between coming from an intact family and career decidedness. The research on family adaptability is unclear. Although Rush (2001) found a positive relationship between family adaptability and career problem solving in a group of African American college students, other studies have not found a significant relationship between adaptability and career constructs (Dodge, 2001; Hall, 1997; Hartung et al., 2002; Sampson et al., 2004; Smith, 2011). For example, a study of 172 mostly Caucasian college students did not find a significant relationship between family adaptability and vocational identity (Hartung et al., 2002).

Family of Origin and Career Thoughts

Although research supports family of origin as an important contextual factor linked to various career development constructs (e.g., career self-efficacy, career indecision, vocational identity), few studies have focused on family-of-origin influence on career cognitions. The extant research suggests that career development is cognitively and affectively mediated and that cognitive and affective processes are the foundation for the constructs of career self-efficacy, vocational identity, and effective career planning (Strauser, 2014). One career theory that explicitly considers family contextual factors is cognitive information processing (CIP) theory (Sampson et al., 2004). CIP theory focuses on an individual's capability to make effective career decisions and the complexity of the individual's external situation that includes family and other influences, such as economic trends that affect one's ability to make effective career decisions (Sampson et al., 2004). A relational understanding of career decision making posits that interpersonal relationships within the family assist in the development of behaviors that can either inhibit or support functional career decision making (Blustein, 2011). Within the context of CIP, career thoughts range from functional to dysfunctional and develop through a combination of the individual's vocational cognitions and behaviors and contextual factors, including the family (Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1996). Individuals may verbalize negative or dysfunctional career thoughts that can make career decision making problematic. Research on dysfunctional career thoughts indicates that they link with a variety of psychological difficulties, including decreased self-worth, tendencies toward perfectionism, and overgeneralization (i.e., applying a specific experience to other unrelated experiences; Sampson et al., 1996). Dysfunctional career thoughts are also associated with lowered psychological well-being and higher levels of depression (Sampson et al., 2004; Saunders, Peterson, Sampson, & Reardon, 2000; Strauser, Lustig, & Ciftci, 2008).

The CIP approach asserts that dysfunctional career thoughts relate to the capability and complexity of making effective career decisions. Capability involves problems (a) initiating or maintaining the career decision-making process because of affective barriers and difficulty in understanding how to make a decision and (b) committing to a career choice because of the anxiety about potential outcomes. Complexity involves problems integrating the opinions of others with regard to a career decision. The three types of dysfunctional career thoughts are decision-making confusion, commitment anxiety, and external conflict (Sampson et al., 1996, 2004). Research into family interaction and career cognition would provide insight on how the quality and strength of the family relationship affect the development of...

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