Vocational Interests: A Look at the Past 70 Years and a Glance at the Future

Article excerpt

This article reviews the literature on vocational interests. Ten themes about vocational interests are discussed: development, correlates, measurement, homogeneity and differentiation, career choice, sex differences, stability, structure, career counseling, and cultural influences. These 10 themes are similar to major issues discussed by Strong (1943) in his landmark book on interests Vocational Interests of Men and Women. Directions for future research are presented.

Vocational interests has been a cornerstone of vocational psychology and career counseling since the early 1900s. Pioneers in the study of vocational interests include Fryer (1931), Kuder (1939), Strong (1943), and Darley and Hagenah (1955). For this review of vocational interests, we first examined these early publications on research, theory, and practice. Next, we examined more recent reviews of interests (e.g., Hansen, 1984; Walsh & Osipow, 1988). Finally, we examined articles (research, theory, and practice) on vocational interests from the past 15 years; this included both a computerized search of the psychological literature and a manual search of relevant journals. As we began to identify major themes and facts about vocational interests, we were struck by the similarities between our conclusions and the major issues Strong (1943) discussed in his seminal book on interests Vocational Interests of Men and Women. Thus, we present our conclusions about vocational interests in the order in which Strong, over 50 years ago, explored these issues. The 10 themes about vocational interests are development of vocational interests, correlates of vocational interests, measurement of vocational interests, homogeneity and differentiation of vocational interests, relationship of vocational interests to career choice, sex differences in vocational interests, stability of vocational interests, structure of vocational interests, vocational interests in career counseling, and cultural influences on vocational interests. After our discussion of these 10 themes, we present three directions for future research: exploring the development of vocational interests, examining the universality of the structure of vocational interests, and understanding the role of vocational interests in a changing society.

DEVELOPMENT OF VOCATIONAL INTERESTS

Since the study of vocational interests began in the 1920s, theorists have attempted to address the question of how vocational interests develop. According to Hansen (1984),

Most major theorists (Berdie, 1944; Darley, 1941a; Darley & Hagenah, 1955; Strong 1943; Super, 1949) have included five determinants of interests in their theories:

1. Interests arise from environmental, and/or social influences

2. Interests are genetic

3. Interests are personality traits

4. Interests are motives, drives, or needs

5. Interests are expressions of self-concept. (p. 100)

Furthermore, Hansen ( 1984) commented that empirical research on the development of interests, and particularly research with children, was limited. Betz (1992) echoed these comments. She reflected on the need to address the development of interests, the genetic and environmental influences on interests, and the modifiability of interests. Recent research has made significant contributions to understanding the development of vocational interests. This research arises from two domains: behavior genetics research and cognitive or social-cognitive models.

Moloney, Bouchard, and Segal (1991) examined the genetic influences on vocational interests using a sample of monozygotic (MZ; identical) and dizygotic (DZ; fraternal) twins reared apart. The results suggested 45% to 50% of the variance was genetically influenced. Furthermore, approximately 50% of the variance in vocational interests could be accounted for by environmental differences and measurement error, and correlations between vocational interest factors and measures of the environment indicated that the influence of the rearing family environment on vocational interests was limited. …