Social Cognition And Socioeconomic Status: An Accelerated Longitudinal Analysis Of Young People’s Career Aspirations

Year: 2015

Author: Berger, Nathan, Holmes, Kathryn, Archer, Jennifer, Gore, Jennfier

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A decade of economic and social policy in Australia has been directed at enabling access to tertiary education for students from historically underrepresented social backgrounds. The drivers behind these policy settings have included the need to staff an increasingly knowledge-based economy and a concordant desire for greater social mobility from the working to the middle classes. In Australia, however, universities remain predominantly middle- and upper-class institutions, with just 15% of students from the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) quartile undertaking degree-level education. In order to begin to address this social inequality, educators and policymakers need a greater understanding of how career and education aspirations develop over the course of schooling. This study applied the latent class mixture modelling (LCMM) technique to three years of accelerated longitudinal data gathered in New South Wales from more than 6,000 primary and secondary school pupils aged 8 to 17 years. LCMM identified a number of latent developmental trajectories in the social prestige of career aspirations across nine years of schooling; trajectories which differed according to student SES, prior achievement, gender, and educational goals. The role of pupils’ social-cognitive styles in making sense of self-relevant information about career aspirations was also investigated. Pupils with relatively low career aspiration trajectories tended to come from lower SES backgrounds and had increasingly lower prior achievement from late primary school when compared to high aspiring pupils. Furthermore, the low aspiring pupils increasingly circumscribed their education goals away from university degrees to vocational qualifications and the completion of secondary school only. In contrast, high aspiring students tended to come from a variety of SES backgrounds but had higher prior achievement profiles. Throughout their schooling, high aspiring students also had consistent aspirations to attain degree-level qualifications. Because the observed differences increased as pupils aged, the analysis suggests the existence of a developmental process by which pupils are socialised into having certain career goals which accord with their perceptions of the social order, and thereby supports aspects of Gottfredson’s theory of career circumscription and compromise. An important implication of this study is that to improve access rates to tertiary education there is a need to systematically address the impact of social inequality on school achievement from early childhood through to adolescence.
Presenting author short biography
Nathan Berger, MEd, is a PhD Candidate and Casual Academic in Education at the University of Newcastle. Nathan’s research and tertiary teaching interests include educational psychology and the sociology of education. Nathan’s doctoral work is attached to the Aspirations Longitudinal Study (2012-2015) and seeks to examine the ways that socioeconomic status might influence the social-cognitive processes involved in the development of young people’s career aspirations.