The Psychology of Working: A Case Study of Mexican American Women with Low Educational Attainment

By Guerrero, Laura; Singh, Satvir | Career Development Quarterly, March 2013 | Go to article overview

The Psychology of Working: A Case Study of Mexican American Women with Low Educational Attainment


Guerrero, Laura, Singh, Satvir, Career Development Quarterly


Using Blustein's (2006) psychology of working and Hackman and Oldham's (1975) job characteristics theory, the authors investigated the job attribute preferences of Mexican American women with low educational attainment. They used content analysis to code and analyze the interview transcripts of 27 women. The most valued job attributes were not only those associated with survival and power but also those that incorporated aspects of social connection and self-determination, including autonomy, the opportunity to help others, the opportunity to use one's existing abilities, and the opportunity to learn. Understanding the preferences of this group of women can help career counselors and managers to be more effective in working with these women.

Keywords: Hispanics, job attributes, Mexican American, psychology of working, women

The psychology of working framework was developed by Blustein (2006) in response to criticism that careers research had, in the past, overwhelmingly focused on university-educated, middle-class individuals (e.g., Härtung, 2002). Blustein argued that the basic premise of many career theories - that individuals are able to choose careers that are congruent with their interests - is not accurate for all people. Individuals may be unable to choose their career because of economic and social barriers, such as the likelihood of facing prejudice and discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, and social class. In the psychology of working, Blustein proposed that even when individuals are unable to choose careers that are congruent with their interests, certain needs can be fulfilled through work.

In this article, we study a group of Mexican American women who were unable to pursue their original career aspirations. These women stated that they wanted careers in medicine, nursing, teaching, and other careers but that they were unable to fulfill these aspirations because they lacked the money to obtain a university education, were not able to speak English, or had to support their parents or their own children at an early age. Mexican Americans are individuals living in the United States who can trace their lineage back to Mexico (Marin & Marin, 1991). The term low educational attainment (LEA) is used to describe individuals whose highest educational attainment was, at most, a high school diploma. Mexican American women with LEA are in several understudied groups in careers research, including LEA workers, Mexican Americans, and, to a lesser degree, women. The careers of this group of women are likely to be influenced by their socioeconomic status (SES), culture, gender, and their lower status in the workplace or in society. These potential influences were not measured explicitly in our study. For instance, we did not measure cultural values, and it would be inappropriate to assume that women in the sample hold traditional Mexican values. This assumption would be particularly problematic because the women in this study were immigrants, and some of them were born in the United States and others were born in Mexico (first- generation immigrants) and have varying levels of acculturation.

In this article, we investigated the job attributes valued by a group of Mexican American women with LEA using content analysis. Qualitative approaches have been recommended for understudied populations (e.g., M. J. Gomez et al., 2001) to develop a richer understanding of the perceptions of study participants. We used Hackman and Oldham's (1975) job characteristics theory and Blustein's (2006) psychology of working.

Favorable job attributes are expected to have a positive impact on several aspects of job and career satisfaction. In their job characteristics theory, Hackman and Oldham (1975) proposed that certain job attributes can be sources of motivation for workers. Specifically, jobs with skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback were likely to produce high levels of intrinsic motivation, quality work performance, and job satisfaction. …

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