Cultural Context of Career Choice: Meta-Analysis of Race/Ethnicity Differences

Article excerpt

The authors focus on career counseling from a cultural perspective, using the proxy construct of race/ethnicity. They briefly describe traditional career counseling and critique the degree to which the myriad cultural contexts that shape clients' career development are incorporated into vocational theories and practice. They conducted a meta-analysis of research that has investigated the relationship between culture and vocational choice variables and concluded (a) that race/ethnicity differences do not greatly affect career aspirations but (b) that there are differences among racial/ethnic groups in perceptions of career-related opportunities and barriers.

Career counseling must incorporate different variables and different processes to be effective for clients from different cultural contexts. Racial/ethnic minority clients are entering a labor market in which people of their own racial/ethnic group are concentrated in lower level positions and unskilled occupations, influencing their perception of the opportunities available to them (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002). Cultural context makes a difference in the way people make decisions and choose their work. Racial/ethnic minority individuals may also be faced with challenges of racism and discrimination. Thus, the external challenges that racial/ethnic minority clients face differ from those faced by racial/ ethnic majority clients. In addition, their perspectives about work and career decision making may simply be different. The purpose of this article is to synthesize from empirical research what is known about racial/ethnic differences in career choices.

Work is a cultural construction. Carter and Cook (1992) asserted that "from a cultural frame of reference, work is a functional aspect of life in that individuals contribute their skills and labor to their cultural societies and the maintenance of their families" (p. 199). As such, the meaning of work, the value placed on it, and the expectations about who should perform what types of work reflect the society in which work is organized. Many researchers (cf. Cheatham, 1990; Smith, 1983) have argued that the concept of work holds different meanings across groups as a function of their sociocultural, historical, and political experiences. This article focuses on the ways that those different perspectives of work must be incorporated into career counseling to be effective for all populations. We first discuss traditional notions of career counseling, advocating for a more culture-centered approach, and then discuss the findings of a metaanalysis of the empirical literature that helps to inform our call for this culture-centered approach. The article concludes with recommendations for practice and research.

Career counseling is defined as "the process of assisting individuals in the development of a life-career with focus on the definition of the worker role and how that role interacts with other life roles" (National Career Development Association, 1997, p. 1). Career counseling has been found to be effective in helping clients become more career decided and in making vocational choices (Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Ryan, 1999; Spokane & Oliver, 1983; Whiston, Sexton, & Lasoff, 1998). In discussing results from Ryan's meta-analysis, S. D. Brown and Krane (2000) noted that five critical components contributed to the effectiveness of career counseling, but they also noted that little information is available on the role of race, gender, or sexual orientation on career interventions. In other words, although research shows that career counseling is effective, it is not clear how cultural variables may influence the career decisionmaking process and effective career counseling.

Some theorists have recently begun to discuss how cultural variables can enrich the career counseling process. S. D. Brown and Krane (2000) suggested the inclusion of cultural variables in defining the goal of career counseling to incorporate "goal-congruent work that will allow [individuals] to experience work, career and life satisfaction in a changing society" (p. …