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

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

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

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

Relation of contextual supports and barriers to choice behavior in engineering majors: Test of alternative social cognitive models. Cultural context of career choice: Meta-analysis of race/ethnicity differences.270    Journal of Career Assessment “social class [has an] impact upon access to learning experiences and the development of selfefficacy beliefs” (p. Brenner. G. Hopps. 341.. American Sociological Review. (2004). L. 40-58. (1979). Using social class in counseling psychology research. Self-efficacy and vocational outcome expectations for adolescents of lower socioeconomic status: A pilot study. M.. & Chronister. and to understand the ways that dreams of social mobility have influenced many individuals. E. Journal of Vocational Behavior.... Brown. B. Retrieved October 6.. G. E.. Jr. D. Krieger. M.. Journal of Career Assessment. San Diego. N.. E. (2005). Davis.. hard work was modeled.. W. from http://www. G. M. & Ali. R. Davis.. S. D. T. Vocational psychologists must understand the role of social class in perceiving that clients can access resources. Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest. Fitzpatrick’s father grew up in a home where education was valued. W. K. Fouad. and eventually building a home in another culture. (2003).. to begin working toward clearer explications of social class in theory. The role of contextual supports and barriers in the choice of math/science educational options: A test of social cognitive hypotheses. Soleck. Lent. 18(1).... Again.. Downloaded from jca. S.. 23). we applaud Diemer and Ali for beginning an important discussion about social class in vocational psychology. Sirin. T. Measuring social class in US public health research: Concepts. B. W. K. Brenner. A new framework to understand social class in counseling: The social class worldview model and modern classism theory.. Jr. et al.. McPartland. Schmidt. O. (2008) Table A..bls. K. S.. E. 50. L. B. 13.. P. B. Brown. R. Lent. Dunston. supports. and financial safety nets were always available. by guest on February 10. 53. Talleyrand. Soleck. S. & Byars-Winston. and the dreams of a different life seemed possible. We hope that their excellent article will serve as a stimulus for us to begin using more nuanced schemas to conceptualize social class. 474-483. A. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 49. N. J. Lundberg. R.. R.. 29-39. (2002). S. choice. R. & Pickett. (1994).. & Hackett. September 2008.. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development. W. 45(1). Fouad’s parents and Fitzpatrick’s grandparents may have struggled as immigrants in a new country.. Annual Review of Public Health. (1997). J. Liu. PAGES.. A. The measurement of socioeconomic status. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Class structure and income determination. methodologies. and coping strategies: College students’ experiences. A.. W. S. Voices of the forgotten half: The role of social class in the school-to-work transition.. & Moss. R. 458-465. S. T. M. & Pickett.. H. (2004). T. R. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2013 .gov/cps/home. But Fouad’s parents had the resources of having been brought up in affluent homes. et al. M..sagepub. CA: Academic Press. M. Integrating social class into vocational psychology: Theory and practice implications. Lyons. W. K. Dunston. (2005). Career Development Quarterly. A. S. ISSUE. (IN PRESS). N. A. A.1. A. et al. & Treistman. travel was expected. S. 3-18. Talleyrand. Gallagher. B. R. 79-122.. 48. 61-72. and performance. Marshall. in which education was valued. 2008.. 5.. (2001). Diemer.. D. Diemer. Journal of Vocational Behavior. G. H. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Employment situation. Liu. D. Brown. Wright. (1940). Chaves. Chopra. McWhirter. 32(2). D. Ali. (2002).. Chopra. References Ali. 95-122. Lent.. R. Williams.htm Blustein. Journal of Career Assessment. J. and guidelines. Lent. D. Hopps.. 311-323. Career choice barriers. R. 223-233.. S. 60(1). In other words.. G. studying in a second language. D. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 51.

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