A social-cognitive perspective on the interaction of social class with student work and education aspirations

Year: 2014

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

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Vocational and social psychologists have largely left exploration of social class and its effect on life goals to sociologists. While social psychologists have long concerned themselves with understanding the three human capacities of cognition, behaviour, and affect, particularly in relation to social groups, until recently there has been little recognition of class as a distinct socioecological context which creates differential group behaviours and attitudes. If a social class socialises its members into certain social-cognitive patterns of relating to the world, then class should be a key determinant in individual career aspiration and choice. While vocational theorists like Gottfredson mention potential class differences in their developmental perspectives on young people’s occupational aspirations, they provide little elaboration on how class might influence the way in which individuals arrive at a set of career alternatives that accord with their perception of where they fit into society. This presentation will review recent theoretical advances in the psychology of social class and apply these perspectives to an analysis of student data from the Aspirations Longitudinal Study. The study involves 85 public schools and almost 6,500 students in Years 3-12 in New South Wales. An accelerated longitudinal design has been employed to allow temporal mapping of differences and similarities in aspirations among divergent social class groups. The data show links between social class background and student aspirations, with students from lower SES backgrounds aspiring to lower status occupations than their high SES peers. These differences increase as students age, suggesting the existence of a developmental process by which students are socialised into having certain aspirations which accord with their perceptions of the social order. Implications for vocational policy and practice will be discussed.