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.


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. Lykken, Bouchard, McGue, and Tellegen (1993) explored the genetic influences on vocational and recreational interests with an adult sample of twins reared together and twins reared apart. The results, based on factor-analytic interest scales, indicated that approximately 50% of the variance was genetically influenced. Betsworth et al. (1994) used a comprehensive sample of twins reared together, twins reared apart, adoptive families, and biological families to estimate genetic influence.

The archival data for all participants were rescored on the Hansen Combined Form Scales for the Strong Interest Inventory (Hansen, 1982). The results showed that 36% of the variance was genetically influenced. In addition, 9% of the variance in vocational interests could be attributed to shared environment (environmental influences that individuals in the same family have in common), and 55% of the variance could be attributed to nonshared environment (environmental influences that are unique to each individual) and measurement error.

Recently, two theoretical models of the development of interests have been postulated. Barak (1981) and Barak, Librowsky, and Shiloh (1989) suggested that an individual engages in different activities and experiences. The individual cognitively processes the information received from these activities, which leads to three cognitive determinants: perceived abilities, expected success of performance in the activity, and anticipated satisfaction from engaging in the activity. These three cognitive determinants affect the existence and magnitude of an interest in the activity. Barak et al. (1989) conducted two initial tests of the model. The results of the first study across individuals indicated that interests were related to the individual's perceived ability, expected success, and anticipated satisfaction. Furthermore, the contribution of the three cognitive determinants were significant in predicting interests. The results of the second study within individuals indicated that perceived abilities were highly related to an individual's interest in an activity. Barak, Shiloh, and Haushner (1992) tested hypotheses from the model with preschool children. Three groups of children participated in unfamiliar game activities. The children's preferences for the activities were either cognitively restructured according to the model (i.e., the children were taught self-talk regarding their perceived ability, expected success, and anticipated satisfaction for the activities), behaviorally reinforced, or not manipulated. The resuit showed that teaching children to positively perceive ability, to expect success, and to anticipate success influenced their preference for activities.

Lent, Brown, and Hackett (1994) suggested that "emergent interests lead to intentions or goals for further activity exposure, which increase the likelihood of subsequent task selection and practice. Activity involvement or practice, in turn, produces particular performance attainments (e.g., successes and failures), resulting in the revision of self-efficacy and outcome expectancy estimates" (p. 89). Lent et al. (1994) offered two specific propositions regarding interests and specific hypotheses under each proposition. Proposition 1 stated that interests were reflective of concurrent self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectations. Proposition 2 stated that interests were influenced by abilities, but the relationship between interests and abilities was moderated by selfefficacy beliefs. The formal presentation of a social-cognitive theory of interests followed the accumulation of numerous empirical studies. Lent et al. (1994) reported an average weighted correlation between self-efficacy and interests of .53 for 13 studies. They found that fewer studies examined the relationship between outcome expectations and interests, but existing research showed a correlation of .52 between the two variables. In addition, they reported that existing research suggested a small, but significant, correlation between abilities and interests.


Hansen (1984) commented that research examining the relationship of interests to other factors had been extensive. Strong ( 1943) discussed the relationship between interests and satisfaction, interests and personality, and interests and ability. In a review of the research, Hansen (1984) stated that correlations between interests and satisfaction, interests and personality, and interests and ability were generally low. The relationship between interests and self-efficacy represents a more recent line of investigation.

Interests and Satisfaction

In recent years, the research on the relationship between interests and satisfaction has been based on Holland's congruence hypothesis, which states that vocational satisfaction (as well as stability and achievement) is dependent on the congruence between one's vocational personality and the working environment. Two meta-analyses have examined the relationship between interest congruence and satisfaction. Assouline and Meir ( 1987) conducted a meta-analysis of 41 congruence studies; 21 of these studies examined satisfaction. They reported a weighted mean correlation of .21. However, additional analysis of the correlations by environmental reference and by method for measuring congruence revealed differences in the mean correlations. Tranberg, Slane, and Ekeberg (1993) conducted a meta-analysis of 27 studies examining interest congruence and satisfaction. In addition, they examined potential moderators of the relationship between interest congruence and satisfaction. Their analysis included 21 studies analyzed by Assouline and Meir ( 1987) and 6 subsequent studies. They reported a mean correlation of .17. Subsequent analyses were performed based on type of satisfaction, Holland type, type of congruence measure, and quality of study. These analyses revealed differences in the mean correlations.

Together, Assouline and Meir (1987) and Tranberg et al. (1993) indicate the lack of a significant relationship between interest congruence and satisfaction. However, both studies examined potential moderators of the relationship between interest congruence and satisfaction, and both studies highlighted differences that were due to the method of measuring congruence. Camp and Chartrand (1992) compared measures of congruence. Their findings suggested that less sophisticated measures yielded lower correlations than did more sophisticated indices. Thus, future research using appropriate methodology may reveal higher correlations.

Interests and Personality

The research examining interests and personality can be broadly categorized into two groups: (a) research on the relationship between interests and discrete personality inventories and (b) research on the relationship between interests and a structural model of personality, the Big Five factors of personality (extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience). Historically and more recently, researchers have examined the relationship between interests and various personality measures including Cattell's Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (e.g., Bolton,1985), Eysenck's types (e.g., Naylor & Thorneycroft, 1986), the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (e.g., Apostal, 1991), and Millon's personality styles (e.g., Strack,1994). The results of investigations correlating interests with personality measures have been consistent. Hansen (1984) concluded that the magnitude of the correlations (small to moderate) was disappointing, but she acknowledged a meaningful pattern of correlations between interests and personality factors measuring social orientation and independent thought.

The investigations focused on interests and the Big Five have examined possible relationships between Holland's six vocational personality types and the Big Five factors of personality (Digman, 1990). This has fostered numerous investigations linking interests to the Big Five personality factors. Costa, McCrae, and Holland (1984) correlated scores on the Self-Directed Search with scores on the Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness Inventory (NEO). The findings showed significant correlations between Investigative and Artistic interests and Openness to Experience, and between Social and Enterprising interests and Extraversion. Gottfredson, Jones, and Holland (1993) administered the Vocational Preference Inventory and the NEO-Personality Inventory (NEO-PI), and obtained similar results. Tokar and Swanson (1995) administered the SelfDirected Search and the NEO five-factor inventory. Their results revealed that, for men, Openness to Experience and Extraversion differentiated among Holland types; for women, Openness to Experience, Extraversion, and Agreeableness differentiated among Holland types. Thus, the correspondence between interests and personality differs somewhat by sex.

Interests and Abilities

Hansen (1984) reviewed the literature on the relationship between interests and abilities; she concluded the relationship was small, with few correlations above .30. Much of the existing research correlated interests scores with general ability tests such as the General Aptitude Test Battery (US. Department of Labor, 1970). Randahl (1991) suggested that the simple correlation of interests and ability scores did not adequately reveal the nature of the relationship. Two recent studies (Randahl,1991; Swanson,1993) used alternative approaches to study the relationship between interests and abilities.

Randahl (1991) used high-point profile analysis to examine the relationship between the General Occupational Themes of the Strong Interest Inventory (i.e., Holland types), and eight ability scores from the General Aptitude Test Battery. She used Holland's theory, which describes the competencies associated with each vocational type, to develop her hypotheses regarding interests and abilities. Her results showed consistent relations between interests and abilities, and generally supported predictions made by Holland's theory. Swanson (1993) explored the relationship between the General Occupational Themes of the Strong Interest Inventory, and self-rated skills and abilities, which corresponded to the six Holland types. She found predictable relations between interests, skills, and abilities within the same Holland type.

Interests and Self-Efficacy

Research on the relationship between interests and self-efficacy has examined correlations between expressed interests and selfefficacy and between measured interests and self-efficacy; discussed the relationship between gender differences, interests, and selfefficacy; and presented theoretical assumptions regarding interests and self-efficacy. Numerous studies have explored expressed interests and self-efficacy (Betz & Hackett,1981; Campbell & Hackett, 1986; Hackett & Campbell, 1987; Lent, Brown, & Larkin, 1986; Rotberg, Brown, & Ware, 1987). These studies generally reported moderate correlations between interests and self-efficacy. Lent, Larkin, and Brown (1989) examined inventoried interests and selfefficacy. Specifically, they investigated the relationship between engineering and science self-efficacy and corresponding interest scales on the Strong Interest Inventory. Their results revealed a pattern of moderate correlations between the two self-efficacy measures and the interest scales.

Two studies have examined gender differences, interests, and self-efficacy. Lapan, Boggs, and Morrill (1989) hypothesized that prior mathematics preparation and self-efficacy expectations would mediate gender differences on the Realistic and Investigative scales of the Strong Interest Inventory. The results supported their hypothesis. Betz, Harmon, and Borgen (1996) developed a measure of self-efficacy for the six Holland themes. Using the self-efficacy measure and the Strong Interest Inventory, they found that gender differences in self-efficacy for Holland themes were consistent with gender differences in Holland interest patterns.

More recent articles have presented theoretical views on interests and self-efficacy. Lent, Lopez, and Bieschke (1991) studied mathematics self-efficacy and interests. Based on their findings, they suggested that "past success experiences in a particular performance domain may promote self-efficacy; viewing oneself as efficacious likely enhances interest in that domain; and such interest then motivates further exposure to, and choice of, correspondent educational and vocational activities" (p. 429). Lent, Lopez, and Bieschke (1993) corroborated these results. Research and theorizing on the nature of interests and self-efficacy culminated in a social-cognitive model of interest development presented by Lent et al. (1994). (For more information, the reader is referred to the section in this article on development of vocational interests.)


The measurement of vocational interests can be traced to initial work at Carnegie Institute of Technology in the 1920s. Shortly thereafter, Strong (1927). published the first Strong Vocational Interest Blank and Kuder (1939) published his Personal Preference Record, Personal-Form A. The measurement of vocational interests has received steady attention since that time. Research has addressed the need for measured interests by comparing them with expressed interests, but research on and use of interest inventories has continued. According to Borgen (1988), the "big three" inventories are Strong and the Strong Interest Inventory (SII), Kuder and the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey (KOIS), and Holland and the SelfDirected Search (SDS) and Vocational Interest Inventory (VPI). Additional interest inventories also have been developed.

Measured Versus Expressed Interests

Hansen (1984) and Borgen (1988) provided reviews of the issues and research pertinent to measured versus expressed interests. Early researchers concluded that little relationship existed between measured and expressed interests. Later research, however, indicated that measured and expressed interests were equally predictive of subsequent occupational choice. Athanasou and Cooksey (1993) recently reviewed self-estimates of interests. They indicated that a meta-analysis of 14 studies yielded a mean correlation of .46 between self-estimated and measured interests; that individual differences were apparent in self-estimated interests; and that differences in the correlations were influenced by different inventories. Moving beyond simple comparisons, Hansen (1984) suggested integrating expressed and measured interests in counseling, and Borgen (1988) suggested examining the interaction between measured and expressed interests. For example, Laing, Swaney, and Prediger (1984) found that individuals were more likely to persist in a major or an occupation if their measured interests were congruent with their expressed interests.

Strong Interest Inventory

The Strong Interest Inventory (SII) was revised in 1994 (Harmon, Hansen, Borgen, & Hammer, 1994). The revision involved changes in several areas. The 1994 SII contains 317 items, which includes 282 items from the 1985 SII (the same or slightly modified) and 35 new items. New General Reference Samples were created and comprised 9,467 women and 9,484 men. The major scales on the SII were all modified or changed. The General Occupational Themes remained the same reflecting the six Holland types, but the items and scales were somewhat changed to increase reliability. The Basic Interest Scales were increased from 23 to 25, four new scales were created and one scale was deleted. The item content of some scales was modified, and several scales were moved from one Holland theme to another. The Occupational Scales increased from 207 to 211, including 14 new occupations. In addition, some scales were renamed, some occupational groups were resampled, and some items were changed. The new Personal Style Scales replaced the Special Scales from the 1985 SII. The Personal Style Scales include Work Style, Learning Environment, Leadership Style, and Risk Taking/Adventure. The Administrative Indexes were slightly modified. Finally, the profile was redesigned.

Kuder Occupational Interest Survey

The 1991 version of the Kuder Occupational Interests Survey (KOIS) represents the latest form in the 60-year history of the Kuder inventories (Kuder 8z Zytowski,1991; Zytowski,1991; Zytowski,1992). The KOIS contains 100 triad items. The profile offers information on four types of scales. The Vocational Interest Estimates reflect 10 vocational interest areas. The Occupational Scales represent 109 occupations including 33 normed on men and women, 32 normed on men, and 11 normed on women. The College-Major Scales represent 40 majors including 14 normed on men and women, 8 normed on men, and 5 normed on women. The Verification Scale indicates whether the inventory-taker has responded sincerely. Diamond (1990) discussed the development, use, and interpretation of the KOIS; Hackett and Watkins (1995) offered a brief psychometric review.

Self-Directed Search

The Self-Directed Search (SDS) was revised in 1994 (Holland, Fritzsche, & Powell, 1994). One focus of the recent revision was to increase scale validity and reliability by revising the items; the 1994 SDS contains 228 items. The SDS is self-administered and self-scored. The directions were clarified in the assessment booklet, which asks the individual about occupational daydreams, preferred activities and competencies, interests in occupations, and self-estimates of abilities. The scoring results in a summary code, which is used to identify possible groups of occupations in The Occupations Finder. The Occupations Finder was updated, and the directions for its use were revised. Spokane (1990) described the SDS and its use with clients; Hackett and Watkins (1995) presented a brief psychometric review.

Other Interest Inventories

Hackett and Watkins (1995) discussed several other interest inventories that warranted attention. The Unisex Edition of the ACT Interest Inventory (American College Testing, 1995) consists of 90 items. The results include six Basic Interest Scales, which correspond to Holland's themes, and the Data/Ideas and Things/People Summary Scales. The Career Assessment Inventory-Enhanced Version (Johansson, 1986) consists of 370 items and focuses on occupations that do not require a college degree. The Jackson Vocational Interest Survey (Jackson, 1977) consists of 289 items and provides information on work-style preference, work-role preference, and general-interest patterns. The Vocational Interest Inventory (Lunneborg, 1981) consists of 112 items and is based on Roe's (1956) psychology of occupations.


Strong (1943) postulated many assumptions concerning the nature of vocational interests. One assumption is that individuals in the same occupation tend to have homogeneous interests. A second assumption is that interests of individuals in one occupation differ from those of individuals in another profession. In other words, birds of a feather flock together and flocks are different from each other

Within a single occupation, the assumption is that individuals have very similar interests. In discussing the homogeneity assumption, Strong asserted that homogeneity of interests would be most evident among persons who were well suited for an occupation and were typical within the profession, and he noted the importance of minimizing extraneous variability due to persons in the occupation who did not meet this description. Hence, for investigations of homogeneity he advocated using five criteria for identifying members of an occupational criterion sample for his test. These criteria specify that persons in the sample should be between the ages of 25 and 55, be satisfied with their occupation, have a minimum of 3 years of tenure in the profession, engage in typical tasks of the occupation, and be successful according to some occupational standard (e.g., those in the lawyer sample would be members of the American Bar Association). In Strong's view, these five criteria collectively eliminate individuals who do not reliably represent an occupation. Kuder (1977) later added sample size as a consideration because of the existence of subspecialties in an occupation.

Researchers have supported the assumption of occupational homogeneity in many occupations: engineer (Dunnette, Wernimont, & Abrahams, 1964; Nolting & Taylor, 1976; Pesci, 1970), scientist (Hill & Roselle,1985; Mossholder, Dewhurst, &Arvey, 1981), counselor (Betz & Taylor, 1982; Hohenshil & Hinkle, 1974), air traffic controller (Smith & Hutto, 1975), policeman (Johannson & Flint, 1973), and cartographer (Benton, 1975). Although some studies have found enough within-occupation heterogeneity to be of possible practical significance to vocational counselors, the degree of heterogeneity has not been sufficient to seriously challenge Strong's assumption of homogeneity. This finding has been consistent even across occupations containing specialties. More recently, Lancaster, Colarelli, King, and Beehr (1994) investigated the premise that similar jobs should attract persons of similar ability and temperament because of the degree of specialization required in postindustrial economies. They found that secretaries and bookkeepers selected similar jobs, but variance for general laborers was wider than the combined variance of the secretaries and bookkeepers, indicating that laborer is a less homogeneous occupation than secretary or bookkeeper.

Researchers have also found considerable evidence that occupations do indeed differ from each other. The premise of the Strong Interest Inventories and the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey, for example, is that occupations may be differentiated on the basis of the interests of the individuals within the occupations (Campbell 1971; Hansen & Campbell, 1985; Harmon et al., 1994; Kuder, 1966; Strong, 1943).


Strong (1943) noted that "interests. . . are permanent enough and sufficiently unaffected by vocational training and experience to furnish a basis for the prediction of future behavior" (p. 381). He offered four propositions: (a) individuals continuing in occupation A had higher measured interests in occupation A than any other occupation, (b) individuals continuing in occupation A should have higher interests in occupation A than individuals in occupation B have in occupation A (e.g., teachers should have higher interests in teaching than engineers have in teaching), (c) individuals continuing in occupation A should have higher interests in occupation A than individuals who change from occupation A to occupation B, and (d) individuals changing from occupation A to occupation B should have higher interests in occupation B before the change than they did in occupation A. Strong (1943, 1955) found support for the first three propositions, but less clear support for the last proposition. Harmon et al. (1994) reported that "between one half and two thirds of all college students enter occupations that are predictable from their earlier scores on the Strong [Interest Inventory]" (p. 150). The relationship seems to be modified by socioeconomic status (McArthur, 1954), emotional stability (Brandt & Hood, 1968), and interest stability and satisfaction with college (Hansen & Swanson, 1983). Spokane (1979), Dolliver, Irvin, and Bigley (1972), Dolliver and Kunce (1973), and Hansen and Tan (1992) supported Strong's results with newer forms of the Strong Interest Inventory. Harmon et al. (1994) reported that"predictive validity hit rates for the merged-gender form of the Strong compare favorably with the older SVIB hit rates, which averaged around 65 percent" (p. 152). Zytowski (1976) found that 51% of 882 men and women who had taken the KOIS were in an occupation predicted by the Kuder. Zytowski and Laing (1978), using the same data sample, found that the predictive validity of same sex and opposite sex scales of the Kuder were similar, regardless of sex. Walsh and his colleagues conducted a series of studies to explore the concurrent validity of Holland's theory using the Vocational Preference Inventory and the Self-Directed Search (Walsh & Holland, 1992). Their findings suggested that White men and women tended to be in congruent occupations and African American men and women also tended to be in congruent occupations (Bingham & Walsh, 1978; O'Brien & Walsh, 1976).


Strong's first interest blank was developed for men in 1927, and the first women's form was developed in 1933. Strong's (1943) discussion of women's interests was essentially one of being confounded by conflicting results: "we cannot tell whether it is possible to differentiate average women from one another respecting the occupations the great majority of women enter. There is need for extensive research on this problem" (p. 131). He reported results of investigations by others (e.g., Hogg, 1928; Manson, 1931) which indicated that women in an occupation were not homogeneous in their interests, primarily because women worked either to keep busy or as a step before marriage. Strong (1943) also noted that people tended to focus on differences between men and women (and differences did exist), but men and women also substantially overlapped in the distribution of interests.

One issue is the influence of sex differences on interest items. Harmon et al. (1994) commented that Strong most probably decided to have two different forms of the Strong Vocational Interest Blank because men and women responded differently to the items, as well as having very different employment patterns. Item differences have consistently been found in all types of interest measurement, and are still apparent in the most recent revisions of the major interest inventories: the Strong Interest Inventory (Harmon et al., 1994), the Self Directed Search (Holland et al., 1994), and the Unisex Edition of the ACT Interest InventoryRevised (UNIACT-R; American College Testing, 1995). On the latest revision of the Strong Interest Inventory, 25% of the 379 items revealed at least a 16% endorsement difference between men and women. Sex differences in item endorsement were also found on the Self Directed Search. Sex differences were most prevalent on the Realistic theme (24.55% of the items were different) and least prevalent on the Enterprising theme (5.64% different). Studies on the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey (e.g., Diamond & Raju, 1977; Kuder, 1966) have shown that median correlations for male and female item endorsement range from .74 to .86. The UNIACTR was developed to reduce the influence of gender stereotyping on the responses to specific items; thus, the developers attempted to sex-balance the items. Items were not retained for the 1995 revision if they indicated a 15% or greater difference between boys and girls. The result is that the greatest difference between men and women was 14.8% for Social Service and the least difference was 4.7% on Business Operations. The mean overall endorsement difference was 12%, half the endorsement difference of the Strong Interest Inventory.

Another issue is the influence of sex differences on interest scales. Examination of scales such as the General Occupational Themes and Basic Interest Scales on the Strong, or the RIASEC scales on the SDS clearly show sex differences, particularly on Social and Realistic themes. It is less clear whether these differences are occupationally relevant, or whether men and women in the same occupation have different interests. Kuder and Zytowski (1991), for example, pointed out that even with different item endorsement, men and women tend to rank occupations in the same order. Harmon et al. ( 1994) reported that only 10% of the occupations on the 1994 revision of the Strong Interest Inventory had a difference of at least a standard deviation between scales for men and for women of the same occupation.

Fouad and Spreda (1995) concluded the following:

While we know that the sexes differ in vocational interests, we also know that the overlap between items that men and women endorse is, for the most part, substantial. Clearly many men are endorsing those items that are more typically endorsed by women, and vice versa. Therefore, gender differences are of less concern than the meaning given to what are termed "men's" interests and "women's" interests. (p. 468)


Over 60 years ago, Fryer (1931) addressed the issue of stability of interests. He suggested that interests changed from childhood to adolescence, but that interests were surprisingly stable across studies. Hansen (1984) reported that the stability of interests of individuals, occupational groups, and society in general was well documented. The stability of interests has been examined with cross-sectional and longitudinal methods.

The stability of interests of individuals was repeatedly studied by Strong (1943, 1955) and others (e.g., Hansen & Stocco, 1980; Swanson & Hansen, 1988). Strong (1943) used a cross-sectional method that compared the interests of several age groups tested at roughly the same time. He reported interest correlations of .88 between 25- and 55-year-old men, .82 between 15- and 25-yearold men, and .73 between 15- and 55-year-old men. Thus, Strong concluded that interests were not greatly affected by age, an individual's interests stabilized by age 25, and an individual's interests were minimally changed by adult experiences. Swanson and Hansen used a longitudinal design to examine the stability of interests over 4-year, 8-year, and 12-year intervals. For a sample of men and women, they reported correlation coefficients of .81 for 4 years, .83 for 8 years, and .72 for 12 years. Thus, interests were remarkably stable over three time intervals. In addition, Swanson and Hansen examined individual differences in stability. They reported that correlation coefficients ranged from .23 to .98 for 4 years, .25 to .98 for 8 years, and -.11 to .96 for 12 years. Thus, group correlations provided strong evidence for stability of interests, but the range of correlations showed the importance of individual differences.

The stability of interests for occupational groups and for society in general was recently studied by Hansen (1988). Hansen (1988) used archival data from the Strong Interest Inventory that spanned 50 years. To study changes in occupational groups, she selected six occupations that were tested at least three times between the 1930s and the 1980s and that had archival data for men and women in those occupations. Her results showed that both women and men exhibited stability of interests within occupations over extended periods of time. Thus, the configuration of an interest profile for a particular occupation remained quite similar across time. To study changes in society in general, she used data from women-ingeneral and men-in-general samples that were used for developing the Strong Interest Inventory. Her results suggested stability of interests for women and for men over 50 years-the interests for women were nearly identical over time and the interests for men revealed only a few small changes. She also reported the persistence of sex differences in interests.


A central concern of researchers has been the interrelationships among interest areas. Strong (1943) noted that when examining the intercorrelations between occupations questions arose. Are occupations equally different, or are some more related than others? Is there a way to spatially represent (picture) the relationships so that it is easier to understand the relationships among occupations, and if so, will it be clearly obvious how those relationships should be presented? Can the relationships be expressed in a"few independent factors?' (p. 133), and if so, can they be identified and labeled? Researchers have worked to identify answers to those questions for over 50 years. Strong (1943) reviewed several factor analyses of men's vocational interests and concluded they "all establish the fact that four or five factors are sufficient to account mathematically for all or nearly all of the variations in interests among the occupational groups so far studied" (p. 147). Recent efforts have also examined the universality of the relationships for men and women and for different racial and ethnic groups. Strong was unable to formulate conclusions about factors for women because of the few scales he had available. Kuder (1977) noted, "no one knows precisely what the domain of occupational interests is" (p. 171). Most interest researchers did not agree with Kuder. Roe (1956) suggested that interests were best represented by eight fields, each having six levels of occupations organized by educational requirements. Holland (1985) postulated that interests are best represented by a hexagon ordered in such a way that Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional personality types are more closely related to adjacent types and least related to those types opposite in the hexagon (Artistic opposite Conventional, Realistic opposite Social, and Enterprising opposite Investigative). Cole, Whitney, and Holland (1971) found support for this structure. Jackson, Holden, Locklin, and Marks (1984) suggested that a 5-factor model be used, based on cluster analyses of over 10,000 students who completed the Jackson Vocational Interest Survey. The U.S. Employment Service used 12 factors in their Interest Inventory, which has been supported by Brookings and Bolton (1989), although they were unable to find support to further reduce the factors.

Gati (1982, 1991) proposed a hierarchical model, postulating that the highest level of interests had two parts, the next level had smaller subsets and was further subdivided; his analyses suggested that his model was superior to Holland's structure (Gati,1991). Prediger (Prediger,1976,1982; Prediger &Vansickle, 1992) postulated three factors in Holland's RIASEC model with two bipolar dimensions (people-things, and ideas-data) and a third factor that he called response bias. More recently, Tracey and Rounds (1996) proposed a spherical model that incorporated Prediger's two bipolar dimensions and a third, orthogonal, prestige dimension. Rounds and Tracey have been instrumental in evaluating the models of vocational interests. They found that Holland's representation was a more adequate fit for 104 correlation matrices than was Gati's model (Tracey & Rounds, 1993). In another study, they found support for Prediger's three-factor model (Rounds & Tracey, 1993).

Researchers were also interested in the representations of interests of groups other than Whites, and they tested Holland's representation of interests both with international groups and with minority groups in the United States. International investigations found that the RIASEC structure did not adequately represent the interests of Australian plumbers (Boyle & Fabris, 1992), Bolivian students (Glidden-Tracey & Parraga, 1996), or Pakistani women but did fit Pakistani men (Khan & Alvi,1991), New Zealand psychology students (Bull, 1975), and Mexican engineers and engineering students (Fouad & Dancer, 1992a). Studies of minority groups in the United States found that Holland's structure fit for Hispanic high school students and adults (Fouad, Cudeck, & Hansen, 1984), African American college students (Swanson, 1992), but support was mixed for Asian American college students (Haverkamp, Collins, & Hansen, 1994). In the latter study, Conventional and Enterprising were reversed, though the rest of the themes were represented in the order postulated by Holland (1985). Rounds and Tracey (1996) conducted a large scale meta-structural analysis of Holland's model, Gati's model, and an alternative three-class partition (RI, A, SEC) on 20 U.S. ethnic correlation matrices, 76 international matrices, and a U.S. benchmark sample of 73 matrices. They concluded Holland's circular model did not fit the data from any of the samples, Gati's model and the alternative partition fit the U.S. benchmark and international samples, but none of the models were adequate representations of the U.S. minority samples. However, they noted relatively small sample sizes for the latter, and urged caution in interpreting this result.

Hansen, Collins, Swanson, and Fouad ( 1993) examined the structure of interests for men and women in the 1985 revision of the Strong Interest Inventory. They found that Holland's model fit the data for Men-in-General, but was a poorer fit for Women-in-General. Anderson, Tracey, and Rounds (1994) argued that gender differences found at an item and mean level should be examined in a meta-structural analysis; their results showed no gender differences in the fit of Holland's model for either sex.


Vocational interests have played an important role in career counseling since the early 1900s. Parsons (1909) stated that vocational choice involved knowledge of self, knowledge of occupations, and the relationship between the two. Acquiring knowledge of self required the individual to assess and understand her/his attitudes, capabilities, interests, and limitations. Strong ( 1943) discussed the role of interests in vocational guidance. Presently, vocational interest inventories are widely used, and guidelines for and outcomes of inventory use have been discussed.

Hansen (1984) stated that over one million Strong Interest Inventories were scored annually. Betz (1992) reported 3.5 million interest inventories were administered each year. Watkins, Campbell, and Nieberding ( 1994) studied the vocational assessment practices of counseling psychologists. They concluded vocational assessment continued to be a significant part of counseling psychology practice. The results indicated the most frequently used inventories were the Strong Interest Inventory, the Self-Directed Search, and the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey. In addition, the respondents believed counseling psychology graduate students should be competent with the Strong Interest Inventory (82% of respondents), the Self-Directed Search (41% of respondents), and the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey (33% of respondents).

Given the widespread use of interest inventories, counselors should be aware of guidelines for the beneficial use of interest inventories. Gottfredson ( 1988) reviewed principles for test use including the following: (a) Inventories should be viewed as treatments; (b) interest inventories and their interpretive materials constitute packages of interventions, the specific packages differing somewhat from one inventory to another; (c) interest inventories are most useful when embedded in a broader career counseling process that recognizes the constraints on career choice; (d) treatment should be tied to goals; (e) interest inventory scores are useful in diagnosing whether career choice is proceeding satisfactorily and why it may not be if it is not; (f) interpretive materials that accompany interest inventories can be valuable in exposing and treating some underlying problems in career choice; and (g) interest inventories are useful in developing next-best alternatives when compromises are necessary.

According to Spokane and Oliver (1983), career counseling interventions, including the administration and interpretation of interest inventories, are effective. Randahl, Hansen, and Haverkamp (1993) stated that prior research reported participants had positive attitudes for and satisfaction with interest inventories, and a few studies indicated interest inventory use facilitated career exploration behaviors. They conducted a study to examine the exploration validity (i.e., the power of interest inventories to facilitate career exploration behaviors) of the Strong Interest Inventory. The study compared the career behaviors of an experimental groupparticipants who received an interpretation of the Strong Interest Inventory and were followed up 1 year later-with a contrast group. The results indicated that the experimental participants reported more career behaviors in two areas: discussion/reading activities and individual information seeking. The contrast group reported more career behaviors in one area: vocational testing.


Cultural influences on interests have been investigated for ethnic minorities in the United States, as well as for other countries, the latter using different languages. These studies have investigated simple mean differences in interests across cultures; more sophisticated analyses of the structure underlying interests were previously discussed.

Strong (1943) reported one study with African American women nurses, who were very similar to the White women nurses in the criterion group. Other studies have also indicated similarity of responses on interest measures for Native Americans (Haviland & Hansen,1987);African Americans (Borgen & Harper,1973;Walsh, Bingham, Horton, & Spokane, 1979; Whetstone & Hayles, 1975); and Hispanic/Latinos (Arbona, 1990; Hansen & Fouad, 1984; Harrington & O'Shea, 1980; Montoya & DeBlassie, 1985). However, many studies have contradicted similarity between Whites and African Americans (Carter & Swanson,1990; Hines,1983;Yura, 1986); Native Americans (Gawhega,1982; Hansen,1987); and Asian Americans (Sue & Kirk,1972, 1973). Much more research is needed in this area, especially because Rounds and Tracey (1996) showed Holland's model did not fit well for U.S. ethnic minority groups.

Fouad, Harmon, and Hansen (1994) investigated the item, scale, and profile differences between ethnic groups that responded to the 1994 revision of the Strong Interest Inventory and the General Reference Sample. African American men and women indicated a greater like for religious items, American Indian men and women indicated greater like for outdoor items, and Hispanic/Latino men and women indicated greater like for languages. These item differences, however, were apparent in only a few scales. The General Occupational Themes revealed no differences, and only two Basic Interest Scales showed differences: Religious Activities was higher for African Americans and Nature was lower for African Americans than the General Reference Sample. The Personal Style Scale, Learning Environment, revealed lower interests for American Indians than the General Reference Sample. Finally, in an analysis of profile differences, Fouad et al. (1994) concluded that "ethnic minority group members within an occupation are quite similar to others in that occupation in terms of the items that differentiate them from the [General Reference Sample]" (p. 270).

The SII has been used internationally to examine relative benchmark occupations (e.g., police officers, engineers, and physicians). Studies conducted in Germany, Mexico, Austria, Switzerland, Scotland, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, and Pakistan showed that people within an occupation were more similar across countries than individuals in the same country across occupations (Fouad & Hansen,1987; Fouad, Hansen, & Arias, 1986,1989; Lonner,1968; Lonner & Adams,1972; Shah,1971; Strong, 1943). However, Fouad (1993) discussed concerns with translation and international use, echoing Strong's (1943) concern that words may carry different meanings and occupations may not be the same in different countries.


Over the past 70 years, vocational psychology has built an extensive knowledge base on vocational interests. However, we have identified three directions that warrant attention: the development of vocational interests, the universality of the structure of vocational interests, and the role of vocational interests in a changing society.

Behavior genetics and cognitive or social-cognitive models have significantly advanced the understanding of the development of vocational interests. The behavior genetics studies provide convincing evidence that vocational interests are genetically influenced. Approximately 40% to 50% of the variance in vocational interests can be attributed to genetic variance. Lykken et al. ( 1993) further suggested that genetic influences operate through the processes of geneenvironment correlation and interaction. Gene-environment correlation indicates that genetically unrelated individuals may be selectively exposed to different activities or experiences. For example, a physically strong, coordinated, and competitive child may be given or may seek out special opportunities to participate in athletics while growing up. Gene-environment interaction indicates that genetically unrelated individuals may respond differently to activities and experiences. For example, a physically strong, coordinated, and competitive child may respond better to athletic situations than an uncoordinated, passive child. Furthermore, these studies shed light on the environmental influences on vocational interests. The findings from Betsworth et al. (1994) and Moloney et al. ( 1991) indicated that shared environment has limited influence on vocational interests. Conversely, nonshared environment accounts for a significant amount of the variance in vocational interests. Thus, environmental influences unique to an individual are most important. The cognitive and social-cognitive studies offer a model for how the environment influences the vocational interests of an individual. In particular, Lent et al. (1994) suggested how self-efficacy, which arises from several environmental sources, and outcome expectations influence the development of interests. Future research needs to explore the development of interests, incorporating the genetically related attributes of an individual (e.g., ability, personality) with the social-cognitive influences from the environment.

The inherent value in the structure of vocational interests is parsimony. If one is able to reduce vocational interests to a small set, then it is easier both to measure and to interpret those factors. In addition, if one is able to predict stable relationships among interest factors, one is able to make further predictions of behavior. Predicting vocationally relevant behavior is a valuable counseling tool. It is clear that researchers have been able to find 5 to 12 interest factors (sometimes called themes, or clusters). It is less clear whether those factors are the same across groups of people. Rounds and Tracey (1996) have suggested that interest factors are not the same across U.S. ethnic groups, or international groups. If the internal structure differs across cultural groups-if the hexagon does not fit, or has a different ordering, or has more or fewer factors-then cross-cultural use of interest inventories and theories built on predicting behavior from the relationships among interest factors are called into question. Further research needs to propose and examine new models that approximate reality for groups other than the White middle-class (often male) sample on which vocational theories and interests were based.

This article has illustrated the major themes in vocational interest research throughout the twentieth century. The questions raised by early researchers shaped the existing body of knowledge on vocational interests. Society and the workforce in the United States, however, have changed since vocational interests were first studied and continue to change. Women and racial-ethnic minorities continue to enter and advance in the workforce. Older adults are becoming a larger portion of the population. Increased technology continually leads to change and evolution in occupations. The need for occupational specialization is being countered by the need for occupational generalists. Indeed, the very concept of work is changing with questions about the relevance of career. These changes lead to further questions. What is the role of vocational interests in career decision making in the twenty-first century? Will interests form the basis for a collection of skills that adults will market?Will increased knowledge of the structure and development of interests help counselors and researchers intervene more effectively and at an earlier point to promote equity across the career spectrum? Will counselors and researchers work to help clients develop latent interests, particularly older clients who may retire or may continue work in another environment? These questions can only be answered with further research. We encourage and look forward to new avenues of vocational interest research that will meet the demands of a changing world of work.




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[Author Affiliation]

Deborah G. Betsworth is a visiting assistant professor, and Nadya A. Fouad is associate dean of the School of Education and a professor, both in the Department of Educational Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The authors thank the Office of Research in the School of Education for assistance. Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to Deborah G. Betsworth, Department of Educational Psychology, University of WisconsinMilwaukee, PO. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201.


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