The Effect of Life Domains on Girls' Possible Selves

By Curry, Carol; Trew, Karen et al. | Adolescence, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Life Domains on Girls' Possible Selves


Curry, Carol, Trew, Karen, Turner, Irene, Hunter, Jennifer, Adolescence


One concern that seems to be resistant to satisfactory explanation concerns girls and careers; specifically, that females are under-represented in higher status, higher earning occupations, especially in the scientific and technology fields. Researchers have proposed explanations for this gender difference from three main perspectives. Cultural and socialization perspectives suggest that parental influence and sex-role stereotyping conspire to turn girls away from the "masculine" subjects of mathematics, physics, and chemistry (Kelly, 1982; McEwen & Curry, 1987; Pedersen, Elmore, & Bleyer, 1986). Biological perspectives suggest that girls' lack of success with higher level mathematics can be partially explained by differences in the male/female brain which account for boys' superiority on spatial-visual tasks (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Connor & Serbin, 1980), while other explanations have focused on such factors as girls' fear of success, lack of confidence, self-efficacy, or competitiveness (Horner, 1972; Hackett & Betz, 1989).

The ages of sixteen to eighteen are crucial in the lives of girls and boys who are dealing with physical and psychological changes related to puberty. Students who continue with full-time education must strive for autonomy while remaining under the influence of their most significant socializers--parents and teachers--and at the same time, must make decisions about future plans concerning careers. It is clear that the many factors which have been found to influence girls' and boys' choices of subjects and careers are interrelated, and psychologists have turned to model building to explain the complexity of interweaving variables.

One model which relates specifically to career choice is that of Dick & Rallis (1991) in which students make their career choices on the basis of their beliefs about themselves, their abilities, and the relative values of different careers. Students' self-concept and career values are influenced by perceptions of their aptitudes, the cultural milieu, socializers, and past experience. Career values, in terms of interests and abilities, salary expectations, cost, and length of training affect career choice.

When this model was tested, the effect of socializers on career choice was found to be "subtle yet extremely powerful." Even young women with exceptional high school mathematics and science preparation had such different career plans from boys with similar attainment, with few girls planning careers in engineering and science, that the impact of socializers was considered to be felt quite early. Differences were also found for career values, with men considering salary as much more important in career choice than did women who considered a genuine interest in career as important. One problem with this model is that while a student's choice of career is considered to be heavily influenced by past and present experiences, the student's future plans are narrowly limited to career choice as if no other future considerations impinged on these decisions. The model is in accord with the "social mold" explanation which sees the student as a product of socialization and where motivations are not considered central to decisions.

The Role of "Possible Selves"

Motivation is the central concern of the model proposed by Markus and her colleagues (Markus & Nurius, 1986; Oyserman & Markus, 1990) which describes how a person's motivations influence thought, feelings, and actions. They propose the concept of "possible selves," which are the images or conceptions of what a person might become, would like to become, or is afraid of becoming. Possible selves have a very concrete impact on how actions are initiated and structured, both to realize possible selves or to prevent negative possible selves. Possible selves cause the person to focus on the activities necessary to achieve the desired goal, and to persevere in pursuing the goal. …

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