Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Context of Career Decisions: Women Reared in a Rural Community

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Context of Career Decisions: Women Reared in a Rural Community

Article excerpt

This study investigated the influences on the career decisions of women who grew up in a rural community. Forty women were interviewed who graduated in the upper 10% of their high school classes in the 1950s, '60s, '70s, and '80s. The results are described in three components: gender role beliefs, factors, and contexts. Gender role beliefs were the most pervasive influences found. Other factors were (a) information, (b) meeting others' expectations, (c) barriers, (d) sense of empowerment, (e) conditions of work, and (f) personal values. The participants were also affected by their social and historical contexts and their development stages.

Little research has examined the rural community as a context of women's career choice. Most of the research on women's career development has studied women from urban areas (Gerson,1985; Kaufman & Fetters, 1980; Mahoney, 1961; Ornstein & Isabella, 1990) and in college populations (Angrist & Almquist,1975; Betz & Hackett, 1981; DiBenedetto & Tittle, 1990; Leung & Harmon, 1990). Of those studies that indicated the rural or urban characteristics of their samples (Dinnerstein,1991; Falkowski & Falk, 1983; Ginzberg,1966; Marini, 1984), few included the factor of rural upbringing in their analysis. Fitzgerald and Betz (1994) noted the disproportionate focus of career theory and research on White, middle-class, heterosexual individuals and their inattention to the effects of structural and cultural factors on vocational behavior. The rural community provides a different set of structural and cultural factors than does the more commonly studied urban community. Information about rural influences will help clarify the role of context in the career development and choice processes of women. Thus, this study identified influences on the career decisions of women reared in a rural community. Specifically, two questions guided the research: (a) What factors have influenced the career decisions of women from a rural area? and (b) how have these factors differed over time?



We interviewed 40 women who graduated in the upper 10% of their high school classes in a rural, midwestern community. The upper 10% were chosen to minimize the variability of motivation and ability and maximize the options that had been available to them. Participants were limited to women who graduated between 1950 and 1990. We tried to have one graduate from each year when that was possible. Ten graduates were interviewed from each 10-year period.

Most of the participants were married and had two or three children (range = 0-8). Two were divorced and 3 were widowed. The participants were highly educated; all but 5 had attended college and 10 had degrees beyond the baccalaureate degree. Four women had no siblings, and 9 women had four or more siblings. Birth order rankings were an almost equal number of first, middle, and youngest children. Four women were full-time homemakers, 14 women were single or were married and childless and worked full-time, and 22 women were married with families and were working either partor full-time outside of the home. A majority worked in the fields of business and education. All of the participants were White.

The participants lived in a rural county that includes two small municipalities. It is approximately 30 miles from a large metropolitan area of 250,000. From 1950 to 1990, the population ranges of the county, the larger municipality, and the smaller municipality were 46,492 to 51,159; 4,325 to 5,990; and 825 to 950 respectively. The population in the county of other ethnic or minority groups was less than 4% between 1950 and 1990. Agribusiness, agriculture, education, manufacturing, and retail business were the major employers in the county.

Data Collection

Vermeulen conducted audiotaped interviews either in person or by telephone during the winter of 1994-95. The interview schedule contained questions that addressed (a) factors involved in the women's career decisions, (b) information concerning the women's employment history, and (c) occupational information about family members and other significant influences. …

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