Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Development of Elementary-Aged Children's Career Aspirations and Expectations

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Development of Elementary-Aged Children's Career Aspirations and Expectations

Article excerpt

Interviews were conducted with 123 first-, third-, and fifth-grade children to examine the types of careers they wished to have and expected to have. The older children desired careers that were more socially prestigious and less sex-typed compared to those of the younger children. The career thinking of older elementary-aged children was no more specific or realistic than that of younger children, with older children being more likely to aspire to fantasy occupations. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.


There is increasing evidence in the research literature that career development is a lifelong process that begins in childhood (Magnuson & Starr, 2000; Trice, 1991; Trice & McClellan, 1993, 1994). The importance of career-related decisions made during the elementary school age period has been supported both by studies of children and by retrospective studies of adults. One investigation found that half of a group of children aged 9 and 10 believed they had already made decisions that would impact their future careers (Seligman, Weinstock, & Heflin, 1991). A retrospective study found that 23% of adults aged 40-55 had made decisions about their current professions in childhood (Trice & McClellan, 1994). Research also suggests that elementary-aged children may tend to aspire to careers that are out of the reach of all but a select few, such as a career as a professional athlete (Bobo, Hildreth, & Durodoye, 1998; Cook et al., 1996; Helwig, 2001).

Most of the research attention regarding the career preferences of youth has focused on high school students (Cook et al., 1996; Herring Wahl & Blackhurst, 2000). However, the career beliefs, knowledge, and aspirations of elementary-aged children have become the focus of an increasing body of research (e.g., Trice, Hughes, Odom, Woods, & McClellan, 1995; Trice & King, 1991; Walls, 2000; Wright et al., 1995). Increasing attention also has been directed to the role school counselors can play in assisting elementary-aged students in the process of gaining knowledge about careers and exploring career interests (Beale & Williams, 2000; Harkins, 2001; Hoffman & McDaniels, 1991; Murrow-Taylor, Foltz, Ellis, & Culbertson, 1999; Stein, 1991).

Furthermore, the American School Counselor Association National Model (ASCA, 2003) provides further impetus for school counselors to become involved in the career development of elementary-aged children. The ASCA National Model describes a comprehensive school counseling program as addressing the needs of children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in three main domains: academic, career, and personal/social. In the career domain, the National Model outlines student competencies such as developing skills to locate, evaluate, and interpret career information and demonstrating how interests, abilities, and achievement relate to achieving personal, social, educational, and career goals (ASCA). If children at the elementary level are making choices (or failing to make choices) that influence their career goals and plans, then the National Model clearly implies that elementary school counselors need to become involved in assisting their students in the process of career development.

Theories of career development provide school counselors with some guidance in understanding the career paths of elementary-aged children, though different theories provide conflicting views of exactly how children's career thoughts and plans develop. For example, the theories of both Ginzberg (Ginzberg, 1952; Ginzberg, Ginsburg, Alexrad, & Herma, 1951) and Gottfredson (1981) suggest that children go through a fantasy period in which their career choices are based solely on their interests and desires, with minimal attention paid to their abilities or the selectivity of the career. However, these two theories describe different ages at which children's career choices become more realistic. …

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