Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Achievement in a Relational Context: Preferences and Influences in Female Adolescents

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Achievement in a Relational Context: Preferences and Influences in Female Adolescents

Article excerpt

Friends' influence on achievement-related choices in female adolescents was investigated using the Thematic Apperception Test (H. Murray, 1943), in the context of self-in-relation theory (J. V. Jordon, A. G. Kaplan, J. B. Miller, I. P. Stiver, & J. L. Surrey, 1991). Two hypotheses were tested: (1) Achievementrelated stimuli will elicit stories with more unfavorable and conflicted outcomes than will affiliation stimuli; (2) Thematic representation of achievement will be more homogeneous in more highly cohesive peer groups. A multivariate analysis of variance with repeated measures yielded significant results for Hypothesis 1. Thematic analysis of stories supported Hypothesis 2, showing peer group influence on achievement strivings in female adolescents.

Adolescence has been identified as a time of transitions and turning points, which are critical in shaping future life directions (Graber & Brooks-Gunn, 1996). The transition from school to work or college has led to an extensive literature in the area of career choice in adolescence (e.g., Archer, 1985; Farmer, 1980; Leung, Conoley, & Scheel, 1994). Among the threads in this research has been the issue of gender differences in the achievement-related choices that lead to an adult career. It has been found, for example, that fewer girls choose advanced math courses, thereby limiting the later feasibility of a career in science, engineering, or mathematics (Kerr, 1993; Lapan, Boggs, & Morrill, 1989). However, even when girls do choose the necessary prerequisites, careers in science and engineering are not popular choices for them as they are for boys (Dick & R.allis, 1991).

To understand this difference, researchers must go beyond the external factors to explore the motivation behind such achievementrelated choices. Eccles (1994) has suggested that women actively choose alternatives that their socialization prepares them to see as desirable. A woman's learning history leads her in directions compatible with her particular cultural and economic circumstances (Krumboltz, Mitchell, & Jones, 1976). In the past, these alternatives have tended to be consistent with a sex-typed view of the occupational universe (Gottfredson, 1981). The development of a sex-typed view of the world begins in childhood and is actively reinforced during the high school years as girls' sense of social connection is heightened (Gilligan, Lyons, & Hammer, 1990). Today, the question is less one of what career is acceptable for a woman and more one of how women can maintain a commitment to high prestige, traditionally male occupations in light of the other life roles for which they are socialized (Nauta, Epperson, & Kahn, 1998). With a growing awareness of the multiple role expectations they face, adolescent women weigh the pulls of family and career as they begin to consider careers that are compatible with child rearing (Archer, 1985; Stevens, Puchtell, Ryu, & Mortimer, 1992).

Self-in-relation theory provides one useful framework for understanding the often-observed conflicts women face regarding achievement-related choices (Miller & Stiver, 1993). This theory suggests that (a) women thrive in situations where connections with others can be maintained and (b) they avoid situations that force them to separate themselves from significant others. Achievement is traditionally conceptualized in Western cultures as an individual matter, something that one person attains that distinguishes him or her from another individual (McClelland, 1971). Thus, it is not surprising that achievement has presented more conflicts for women than for men, because it separates them from their peers (Fitzgerald & Crites, 1980). More recently, Nauta et al. (1998) have found that the relative isolation of women in the still male-dominated fields of mathematics, physical science, and engineering creates significant problems for women attempting to resolve work-relationship conflicts. …

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