Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Viewing Adolescents' Career Futures through the Lenses of Socioeconomic Status and Social Class

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Viewing Adolescents' Career Futures through the Lenses of Socioeconomic Status and Social Class

Article excerpt

Career development scholars have called for a heightened emphasis on historically underserved populations, such as the poor and the chronically unemployed (Blustein, 2011; Liu & Ali, 2005; Richardson, 1993). Liu and Ali (2005), for example, observed that vocational psychology has often implicitly embraced a classist bias toward upward mobility. Blustein (2011) noted that researchers have tended to focus on middleclass populations who enjoy above-average levels of choice. He further argued that if career professionals hope to understand and assist all working people and not simply middle-class individuals with relatively high levels of vocational volition, the research base of the field must expand to encompass populations that have been largely overlooked in the past. To address some of these shortcomings, the present study examined socioeconomic constructs related to educational and occupational aspirations of high school students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) communities. Gaining a better understanding of these variables is particularly important with respect to adolescent populations, who make pivotal life and career decisions during this phase of life (Akos, Konold, & Niles, 2004; Turner & Lapan, 2005). Moreover, examining these variables in low-income adolescents helps advance important social justice initiatives in the discipline.

Conceptualizing SeS and Social Class

Although SES has received concerted research attention, there is ongoing debate regarding whether SES relates mainly to economic position or to social status, or prestige (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002). This ongoing debate has led to some definitional confusion in the literature, with terms such as SES, social class, and economic background often being conflated (Liu et al., 2004). Despite this confusion, it is generally agreed that an essential component of SES is access to resources, or capital. Coleman (1988) described three forms of capital: physical capital, human capital, and social capital. Physical capital is wholly tangible and relates to tools, productive equipment, and other material resources. Human capital relates to nonmaterial resources, such as skills and abilities that are acquired through education. Finally, social capital relates to resources that derive from social relations or connections. Bradley and Corwyn (2002) argued that this notion of SES as capital is perhaps the most prevalent conceptualization espoused by psychologists, probably in part because these forms of capital have relatively direct implications for well-being. Saegert et al. (2007) noted four distinct pathways through which SES affects health and well-being: differential access to health care, differential exposure to environmental hazards, health behaviors, and differential exposure to stress. These numerous detrimental influences affect myriad facets of individuals' lives, including career development and employability (Fugate, Kinicki, & Ashforth, 2004), and underscore the importance of incorporating the construct robustly into career development research.

Although scholars generally agree on the importance of capital to SES, there is disagreement about the role of prestige and status, and some have made a distinction between SES and social class. Liu et al. (2004), for example, argued that even though both SES and social class relate to power, prestige, and access to resources, a primary distinction between the two involves group awareness. Specifically, they observed that social class implies a collective consciousness of a group's relative position within society. SES implies no such group awareness and is instead an index of access to resources and power (Saegert et al., 2007). Similarly, Fouad and Brown (2000) emphasized the distinction between socioeconomic factors and the ways in which these factors are internalized and affect individuals' self-perceptions. They argued that perception of social standing has important impacts on development and personal and social identities and should be examined in greater depth. …

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