Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

The Prophecy of Place: A Labor Market Study of Young Women and Education

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

The Prophecy of Place: A Labor Market Study of Young Women and Education

Article excerpt



THE LIFE PLANS OF ANY GIVEN YOUNG WOMAN seem to be a personal matter.

Yet, certain aspects of those plans are predictable. In a remarkably resistant gender-stratified occupational structure, we know that for the most part girls will do women's work and boys will not. Further, it is widely documented that women and men with the same education receive, on average, disparate salaries. Nevertheless, education provides the most critical context in which girls develop the potential for better jobs and better wages. Thus, we pay attention to the educational choices of young women. Much less is known, however, about the connections between personal choices and structural arrangements that may influence those educational choices.

This study argues that place--characteristics linked with a specific geographic location--provides a useful context for examining how youth manage gendered situations. Places vary by conditions in which gender is more, less or differently salient, and a particular mix of factors accommodates different individual outcomes. For example, an earlier qualitative study of adolescent girls suggests that young women's aspirations are shaped in part by their local environment, quite independent of individual and family traits (Williams 2002).

Connections between aspirations and attainment are not clearly specified because research on young women is generally isolated from structural concerns and confined to conventionally gendered issues such as sexuality, pregnancy, marriage and work/family conflicts. Research on aspirations of adolescent girls has been limited primarily to notions of socialization (Spade and Reese 1991), or to simple family (Steinberg 1987) versus peer (Newcomb, Huba, and Bentler 1986) absorption. On the other hand, status attainment models most often adopt a top-down, structural approach (e.g., England et al. 1988; Reskin and Roos 1990), and girls' academic achievement is typically reported in aggregated statistics, all of which ignore differences among girls as well as the relationship between aspirations and attainment.

Context is a promising area for investigating educational processes of youth. A substantial body of literature has addressed school structure and outcome effects (e.g., Lee and Marks 1990; Monaco and Gaier 1992), and the American Association of University Women report, "How Schools Shortchange Girls" (1992), heralded a decade of research documenting gender as central to school stratification processes. Researchers have done less well in specifying the combination of variables that would enhance gender equality beyond the classroom, which cannot be viewed in isolation of other contexts. While some have pointed out that schools are situated in communities and communities within larger social settings (Barton, Watkins, and Jarjoura 1997), studies have stopped short of developing testable models to specify connections among such contexts. Only a few have noted links between the community and individual outcomes (Sarigiani, Wilson, and Petersen 1990), and none has systematically examined how specific geographic ar rangements affect the way young women form and enact goals. This paper will empirically test how place characteristics influence the process by which young women formulate and achieve educational goals.


Current Research Considerations

RESEARCHERS CONTINUE TO STRUGGLE WITH MEASURES of actual processes of goal formation and attainment, including how structural constraints shape process. In considering how educational attainment processes are mediated by place factors, this study addresses three categories of extant literature: studies of gender and process, the importance of geographic space and the concept of a gender regime.

Studies of Gender and Process

To address the question of "free choice," or self-selection of goals, research must examine early and changing aspirations and how they are related to actual expectations. …

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