Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Familial and Economic Influences on the Gender-Related Educational and Occupational Aspirations of Rural Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Familial and Economic Influences on the Gender-Related Educational and Occupational Aspirations of Rural Adolescents

Article excerpt


Economic, occupational, and social shifts in rural economies have influenced nuanced changes in the educational and occupational aspirations of rural adolescent women and men. However, there is limited contemporary research that examines the aspirations of rural adolescents at the beginning of the 21st century. Drawing on a sample of 8,756 rural adolescents in the United States, we examine how familial, geographic, and economic variables influence gender-related differences in educational and occupational aspirations. Findings revealed significant gender differences, favoring girls, in youth's educational aspirations, occupational aspirations, and aspirations for nontraditional careers. Results highlight the importance of contextual variables such as parental expectations, family income, and motivation variables in predicting gender-related aspirations of rural youth.

Keywords: aspirations, rural youth, adolescents, educational aspirations, occupational aspirations

1. Introduction

Over the last several decades, rural communities have experienced distinct social, structural, and economic shifts due, in part, to technological advances and economic globalization (Brown & Schafft, 2011; Farmer et al., 2006; US Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2013). Within the United States, rural communities have seen a marked decline in industries such as agriculture, mining, fishing, and logging. Whereas previous generations of rural youth were able to find jobs that required little postsecondary preparation, technological advancements in agriculture and a reduction in American-based manufacturing have reduced or eliminated low-skilled employment opportunities in rural locations (USDA, 2013). Along with economic and structural changes, shifts in social norms and beliefs about women's roles in the workplace have also occurred. Collectively, these changes have differentially influenced rural men and women, as many rural youth have shifted their educational and occupational aspirations to align with more contemporary economic, social, and occupational conditions. For instance, recent evidence indicates that the majority of rural youth (more than ever before) aspire to obtain a postsecondary degree (Byun, Irvin, & Meece, 2012; Meece et al., 2013). Yet, despite this increase in overall postsecondary aspirations among rural students, the factors influencing this trend are largely unknown. That is, there is little information on how recent social and economic changes have shaped rural students' educational and occupational aspirations in the context of 21st century advances.

Therefore, the current paper used data from 8,756 rural high school students in Grades 9 to 12 to investigate how social, structural, and economic changes have influenced the educational and occupational aspirations of rural men and women. The guiding research questions for the study were the following: (1) Are there gender differences in rural adolescents' educational and occupational aspirations? (2) Are there gender differences in factors that explain rural adolescents' educational aspirations and nontraditionality of occupational choices? and, (3) What is the relative influence of key motivation variables when controlling for individual characteristics, perceived family influence, and community characteristics?

1.1 Aspirations and Adolescents

The period of adolescence is a critical time of developmental exploration when students refine their educational and occupational aspirations. A substantial body of research on youth's aspirations has found that aspirations serve as predictors of postsecondary and occupational attainment in early adulthood and in subsequent years (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastoerelli, 2001; Beal & Crockett, 2010; Eccles, Vida, & Barber, 2004; Schneider & Stevenson, 1999). Aspirations may be conceptualized using several different theoretical frameworks; however, the current paper uses a motivation perspective to examine student aspirations. …

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