Differences in Career and Life Planning between African American and Caucasian Undergraduate Women

By Booth, Caroline S.; Myers, Jane E. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Differences in Career and Life Planning between African American and Caucasian Undergraduate Women


Booth, Caroline S., Myers, Jane E., Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


Women, especially African American women, have traditionally been in low-paying careers. This exploratory study examined how career aspirations are affected by future career and family plans. Results revealed that African American undergraduate women had higher career aspirations than Caucasian undergraduate women and also planned for multiple roles in the future.

Las mujeres, sobre todo las mujeres Afroamericanas, han desarrollado tradicionalmente sus carreras en trabajos de menor remuneracion. Este estudio exploratorio examino como las aspiraciones de carrera son afectadas por los planes futuros de carrera y familia. Los resultados revelaron que las estudiantes universitarias Afroamericanas tenian aspiraciones de carrera mas elevadas que las estudiantes Caucasicas, y tambien planeaban tener multiples roles en el futuro.

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African American women are at a significant disadvantage in the American workforce (DeVaney & Hughey, 2000). Those working full time earn, on average, 85% of what Caucasian women earn (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007) and 67.9% of what men earn (National Committee on Pay Equity, 2008). For African American women, these low wages may be partly the result of gendered career selections (DeVaney & Hughey, 2000), as an estimated 60% of African American women work in low-paying and less secure administrative support, sales, and service industries (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007). Although education is positively correlated with greater occupational options and earnings (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007), undergraduate women continue to select female-dominated majors (e.g., education) and careers that will continue the trend for overrepresentation in lower paying occupations (Dey & Hill, 2007). Therefore, understanding cultural factors leading to these educational and career aspirations is important.

Studies have demonstrated that external, systemic, or contextual factors such as racism and lack of opportunity, information, or mentors can have a significant impact on African American women's career development (Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987; Bingham, Ward, & Butler, 2006; DeVaney & Hughey, 2000); however, less is known about the influence of intrinsic experiences of culture on career (DeVaney & Hughey, 2000; Richie et al., 1997). It has been suggested that African American women have a unique career decision-making process influenced by a collectivist worldview that emphasizes both spirituality and relationships (e.g., Bingham, 2000; Constantine, Miville, Warren, Gainor, & Lewis-Coles, 2006). This process is described as one in which career aspirations are selected not only for the individual but also for the entire group or race (Cheatham, 1990; Parham & Austin, 1994). This more collaborative career decision-making style incorporates cultural and familial attitudes about work and family-of-origin experiences (DeVaney & Hughey, 2000; Hackett & Byars, 1996; Pearson & Bieschke, 2001). African American women frequently report a strong work ethic grounded in a cultural history of work experiences and employment expectations based on current and future economic needs (Byars, 2001). In addition, many African American women perceive significant barriers to having a career, including managing multiple roles (Lopez & Ann-Yi, 2006).

Peake and Harris (2002) hypothesized that all women incorporate multiple future roles (e.g., spouse, parent) into their career plans. For African American women, these work and family roles have been shown to hold more meaning than for Caucasian women (Hackett & Byars, 1996). In addition, African American women's experiences of managing work and family roles simultaneously are long established, whereas participating in these dual roles is a relatively new norm for Caucasian women. Studies indicate that African American women maintain primary responsibility of caring for home and family even when working (Gilbert & Bingham, 2001). …

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