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Social Class and Work-related Decisions : Measurement, Theory, and Social Mobility
Nadya A. Fouad and Mary E. Fitzpatrick Journal of Career Assessment 2009 17: 266 originally published online 26 February 2009 DOI: 10.1177/1069072708330677 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Congress just passed a $700 billion bill designed to buy bad mortgage loans from banks. to prepare for a higher paying job. and more than 2. and the career development process. applications to social cognitive career theory (SCCT). specifically our binary schemas for conceptualizing social class. Though we agree with the authors that. The discussion of various ways of measuring social class (and the philosophical underpinnings of those measures) was particularly helpful. In the sections that follow.” the authors point out concerns with binary schema of social class.1177/1069072708330677 http://jca. We are writing this as the words credit crunch and mortgage foreclosures are daily headlines. and still others (especially teenagers or individuals of color) who are having difficulty finding work. 2008). and note the need to integrate social class with other contextual by guest on February 10. Fitzpatrick University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Journal of Career Assessment Volume 17 Number 3 August 2009 266-270 © 2009 Sage Publications 10.sagepub. we highlight three points that we believe vocational psychologists should consider in incorporating social class into their research and training. Fouad Mary E. We had many reactions as we read Diemer and Ali’s (in press) article but space limitations allow us to only comment on a few.sagepub. it is very difficult to disentangle social class from race and ethnicity. We believe that the prevailing economic zeitgeist highlights the critical need to examine social In this reaction to Diemer and Ali’s article.Social Class and Work-related Decisions Measurement. Keywords:   social class. and to prepare to enter a contracting labor market. access to resources. Their call for vocational psychologists to attend to social class as an explicit construct is very much needed. gender or disability.sagepub. and Social Mobility Nadya A. and work as related to social mobility in the United States. “Integrating Social Class Into Vocational Psychology: Theory and Practice Implications. in practice.2 million people became unemployed in the first 9 months of 2008 (Bureau of Labor Statistics. argue for a more nuanced look at ways that work provides social mobility in the United States. This environment highlights how important it can be to access the resources to gain additional education. 2013 . work-related decisions e appreciate the opportunity to provide a reaction to Diemer and Ali’s (in press) examination of the role of social class in vocational psychology. 266 W Downloaded from jca. highlight the contribution of social class to the social cognitive career theory. We wholeheartedly agree with their central point that the impact of social class “upon career development is obfuscated because social class is a poorly understood construct” ( hosted at http://online. Theory. 3). Daily newspaper reports portray individuals who are postponing retirement. others who are taking multiple jobs to pay home mortgages. career development. we applaud the careful delineation of the possible role that social class may play at various junctures in work decisions.

Fitzpatrick / Social Class and Work-Related Decisions    267 High and Low: Discrete Versus Continuous Schemas of Social Class Diemer and Ali (in press) discuss at length the traditional issues involved in quantitative measures of social class and more modern measures that take into account subjective psychological self-views such as the social class worldview model (SCWM. Williams. discrete framework for social status is understandable based on historical measurement approaches and as a research method for comparing group differences. 2004). argued that vocational psychology has exclusively focused on resourced individuals.. Chapin in 1936 was based on the presence or absence of particular material goods in the home. among others. Liu. the ability to measure social class continuously and multidimensionally with scales such as the SCWM allows for a far more sophisticated analysis of the influence of self-perception of social class on occupational outcome variables than a two-group comparison. Though we agree that considering the differential experiences of individuals with limited resources is an important and much needed development within vocational psychology. Liu. presence versus absence of classism experiences. usually college students. peers. 2004. Blustein and his colleagues. Liu. 1979). Soleck. occupational choice is a critical symbol that will be in varying degrees consistent or inconsistent with individuals’ quantitative SES. medium. Other examples from the article include renters versus homeowners. (2) referent groups (salient groups including family.. et al. and aspiration). workers able to take breaks without approval versus those who are not. such as analyzing the work choices and experiences of youth in poverty.sagepub. our mental schema of social class remains firmly attached to a two. A limited. or high. we are all familiar with phrases identifying or comparing the haves and the have nots. psychological. clustering individuals into social class groups allows sociological. The SCWM construct is made up of five domains: (1) consciousness (awareness of social class in a particular domain). Sociological lexicon originally divided society into two or three classes. and most cited examples of social class research such as a study dividing both children and neighborhoods in to high-and low-income groups (Krieger. but may be more accurately explained by a more complete assessment of psychological responses to economic cultures provided by SCWM.Fouad. . Other Downloaded from jca. we are struck by the pervasiveness of this presence versus absence framework. and workers (Wright. such as a radio (Lundberg. Obviously. (4) lifestyle (organization of time and resources). their introduction also notes that previous research has treated social class as a dichotomous variable. & Moss. resources or the lack thereof. though Diemer and Ali make clear the importance of more sophisticated consideration of social class in vocational research and practice. or the “forgotten half” (Blustein et al. For example. & Pickett. Soleck. “Most individuals understand there are stratifications . 2002). Diemer and Ali (in press) explain that SCWM considers how individuals behave within self-identified and self-constructed economic cultures. Hopps. Clearly. 2004). As Diemer and Ali point out. Similarly. in both research and practice. (5) behaviors (observable manifestations of SCWM. An early measure for socioeconomic status (SES) created by F. rooted in Marxist conceptualizations of employers. upper. and low.or three-level heuristic—high and low. middle and lower class” ( by guest on February 10. It is interesting to note that though both traditional and modern measures for social class are continuous variables. . managers. 1940). Dunston. Ali. In the subsequent discussion of social class. et al. and vocational researchers to focus on between-group differences. 2013 . 24). (3) property relationship (materialism). 1997).

a youth who has a high awareness of belonging to the working class may have more negative outcome expectations for taking actions to develop artistic skills. 1994). p. coping self-efficacy.. 2001. & Hackett. researchers may begin to appreciate more complex influences of psychological social class. influencing self-efficacy in a particular career domain through access to related learning opportunities. For example. SCCT Diemer and Ali (in press) consider the implications of social class on vocational psychology theory. the authors hypothesized that this may have been due to their utilization of traditional operational measurement of by guest on February 10. Brown. than a youth who’s is less aware of his or her social class. Thus. These groups are identical to the concept of referent groups in the SCWM. 1994) considers family quantitative SES as a background person variable. 2002). respectively.. referent groups.. In sum. as well as other experiences related to social class such as access to role models and family influence. and Chronister (2005) found support for the hypothesis that perception of contextual barriers was less important in influencing self-efficacy than was positive social support from peers and siblings. Contextual barriers and supports are defined as “environmental factors that persons perceive as having the potential. future research on the SCWM could consider how specifically constructs such as awareness of social class in specific career domains. Ali. 2013 .. to aid or hinder their efforts to implement a particular educational or occupational goal” (Lent et al. It would be interesting to consider how one’s awareness of one’s own social class in a particular domain influences outcome expectations. and there are intriguing possibilities relating SCWM to studies of career development processes.sagepub. through their influence on self-efficacy (Lent et al. such as career values. Related research might consider the outcome expectations individuals have about the impact to their family and peer relationships were they to take actions to leave their families’ economic culture. Lent et al. The authors hypothesize social class may be also appropriately considered a contextual barrier. 2001. and lifestyle influence self-efficacy. or proximal barrier to a particular career choice. contextual barriers are dependent upon person perception. but only indirectly. It seems likely many of the constructs described by SCWM would influence outcome expectations as well as self-efficacy. and career adaptability may also be to varying degrees congruent with individualized economic cultures. In a pilot study of SCCT variables in career decisions in 114 low-SES youth. do proximally influence career goals. and specifically the authors note that SCCT (Lent. Research has suggested that financial resources.268    Journal of Career Assessment vocational constructs. Lent et al.. They are hypothesized to be influenced by self-efficacy and to in turn have a direct influence on career goals. Goals and choices in that career domain are in turn influenced by learning opportunities. Although the pilot study of low-SES youth mentioned previously did not find a significant relationship between SES and outcome expectations (Ali et al. these studies support the centrality of self-efficacy in influencing career choice. and are not objective measures of the environment. materialism. Like other social cognitive variables. 2005).. 475). or a distal barrier. McWhirter. Outcome expectations are individuals’ beliefs about what will happen as a result of an action they take or a task they do in a particular domain (Lent et al. Downloaded from jca. In considering economic cultures continuously and multidimensionally. 2003.

including work that brings wealth. but. Though it is important to understand that the notion of equal opportunity may not apply to everyone. 2005). many individuals. both within and outside the United States. The second point that our personal examples illustrate is the importance of social class on the perceptions that one has of opportunities. First. Her father paid for a private Jesuit high school education by working at three or four part-time jobs. and the other (Fitzpatrick) is the granddaughter of Irish immigrants. and he had the resources to access ways to fund that education (part-time work and military service). access to resources. was able to be educated within his own ethnic by guest on February 10. Rather. via social networking or political connections. Fitzpatrick’s father was a first-generation college student who grew up in a poor family. This is not to deny the very real structural barriers that many immigrants or members of marginalized groups face in seeking employment. He chafed under the cultural expectations of the way things were done at the time. it is equally important to understand the way that work has created opportunities for others in the United States. Deimer and Ali’s (in press) points about the reality that many immigrants face lower-status and lower-paying jobs are important. Fouad’s parents had the identity capital to know they wanted more education. believe in the American dream that hard work ultimately results in more opportunities. Indeed. and prosperity. They chose to move to the United States after 5 years of working in Egypt to allow him to work in an environment that rewarded individual achievement. as Diemer and Ali delineate. Both of Fouad’s parents were from families who were considered upper class (father) or the educated elite (mother). Vocational psychologists must understand that many embrace this dream (Fouad & Byars-Winston. He noted that it was impossible to do things differently in an environment used to doing things the same way for 3000 years. as one of us (Fouad) is the daughter of immigrants who came to this country seeking further opportunities in employment that were not available to them in their home countries. her father was limited by the choices available to members of his social class in Egypt. and both had the personal resources to complete advanced degrees in another language.sagepub. the U. these examples highlight two critical points that vocational psychologists must understand about the intersection between social class. 2013 . and for college by serving in the military. These are exactly the resources that Diemer and Ali (in press) discussed in noting that Downloaded from jca. He was an ethnic minority (Irish Catholic) but not a visible ethnic minority. Fitzpatrick’s father knew that education would provide him more opportunities. educational system and labor market have created opportunities for many individuals. both had access to scholarships to attend school abroad. This belief is often not well founded in reality. still operates for many.Fouad. and to access governmental resources. and social mobility in the United States. Her grandfather had emigrated from Ireland and worked in the United States as a tailor. security. Many immigrants have come to the United States for higher education and have seen this country as a land of opportunities. Her mother was limited by options open to women in Brazil. but both were constrained in their work choices. and in fact. nonetheless. We know this from personal experience.S. Fitzpatrick / Social Class and Work-Related Decisions    269 Social Mobility in the United States Diemer and Ali’s (in press) comments about the contextual constraints that face immigrants and refugees led us to consider the role that work has been a path to social mobility.

J. A. R. M. we applaud Diemer and Ali for beginning an important discussion about social class in vocational psychology. L. and eventually building a home in another culture. Davis. M. (1997). Journal of Career Assessment. D. et al.1. G. in which education was valued. 23). Relation of contextual supports and barriers to choice behavior in engineering majors: Test of alternative social cognitive models. Retrieved October 6. 53. W. References Ali. 60(1). (2004). Soleck. A new framework to understand social class in counseling: The social class worldview model and modern classism theory. We hope that their excellent article will serve as a stimulus for us to begin using more nuanced schemas to conceptualize social class.. B. B. Schmidt. S. 5. D. (2005). Voices of the forgotten half: The role of social class in the school-to-work transition. R. (2005). Fitzpatrick’s father grew up in a home where education was valued. September 2008. 51. (1994). 95-122. & Pickett. PAGES.. & Treistman. hard work was modeled.. (1979). Brown. Jr.. D. W. Lent.. 2008.. Brown. CA: Academic Press. Cultural context of career choice: Meta-analysis of race/ethnicity differences. Talleyrand. The measurement of socioeconomic status.. S. Journal of Career Assessment. 223-233.. G. (1940). Talleyrand. (2008) Table A. Brown. L. E. S. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development. Again.. Fouad. S. and financial safety nets were always available. 40-58.270    Journal of Career Assessment “social class [has an] impact upon access to learning experiences and the development of selfefficacy beliefs” (p. Lyons. N. 50.bls. Lundberg. travel was by guest on February 10. Marshall. R.. R. Bureau of Labor Statistics. McPartland. to begin working toward clearer explications of social class in theory. and the dreams of a different life seemed possible. Chaves. Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest. A. Sirin. (2003). R. S.. Brown. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 29-39.. ISSUE.. from http://www. G. Class structure and income determination. G. K. D.. M. 13. R. K. M. Career choice barriers. A. J. Hopps. H. 311-323.sagepub. Liu. (2001). & Chronister.. Chopra. K.. Williams.. 32(2). Employment situation.htm Blustein. methodologies. D... Dunston. & 45(1).. and coping strategies: College students’ experiences... D. Journal of Counseling Psychology. (2002). Brenner. P. 2013 . Downloaded from jca. Wright... American Sociological Review. Career Development Quarterly. Lent. (2004). et al. E. M. T. 48. Diemer. Journal of Counseling Psychology. W. (IN PRESS). San Diego. 341. supports.. R. & Ali.. Journal of Vocational Behavior. In other words. S. Lent. and performance.. studying in a second language.. et al. R. B. and to understand the ways that dreams of social mobility have influenced many individuals. T.. 79-122. & Byars-Winston.. M. Vocational psychologists must understand the role of social class in perceiving that clients can access resources. 61-72. O. T. T. A. S. B. A. Gallagher. Jr.. & Moss. R. E. H.. Brenner. N. N. The role of contextual supports and barriers in the choice of math/science educational options: A test of social cognitive hypotheses. A. 18(1).. Self-efficacy and vocational outcome expectations for adolescents of lower socioeconomic status: A pilot study. McWhirter. W. Chopra... Journal of Counseling Psychology. Soleck. Fouad’s parents and Fitzpatrick’s grandparents may have struggled as immigrants in a new country. G.. R. Liu. (2002)... S. Journal of Counseling Psychology. W. D. Dunston. Davis. 49. Using social class in counseling psychology research. Lent.. Integrating social class into vocational psychology: Theory and practice implications. But Fouad’s parents had the resources of having been brought up in affluent homes. 458-465. B. Diemer.. Krieger. W. 3-18. & Hackett. S. choice.. Measuring social class in US public health research: Concepts. J. K. 474-483. S. Annual Review of Public Health. A. Ali. Hopps. E. and guidelines.