The Role of Caregiver Work Experience and Social Class in the Development of Young Adults' Vocational Expectations
This study sought to better understand the complex relationship between family, social class, and career development. Social class, which is largely influenced by family of origin, contributes to work opportunities and work, in turn, can determine social class (Diemer & Ali, 2009). As such, work has the potential to promote social mobility among individuals from low-income backgrounds (Blustein, 2006; Matthys, 2012). For young people who have not yet entered the workforce, career expectations, which have been shown to lead to positive outcomes in work and overall wellbeing (Koen et al., 2012; Perry, 2008; Taber & Blankenmeyer, 2015; Zacher, 2014), provide a promising entry point for understanding and influencing the relationship between social class, career development, and social mobility (Perry & Wallace, 2013). Previous research has shown that family, a crucible for the development of social class identity (Brown, 2004), is also a significant predictor of career expectations (Whiston & Keller, 2004). Given the intergenerational nature of social class (Wagmiller & Adelman, 2009), the current study postulates that family, social class identity, and career expectations interact to perpetuate social inequality. The purpose of the present study was to tease apart these interactions through the lens of Social Cognitive Career Theory (Lent, Brown & Hackett, 2002). Broadly, it was hypothesized that one of the ways in which family influences both social class identity and career development is through vicarious learning; children integrate information about class and the world of work through observing their parents’ work experience. This relationship was examined by surveying 298 young adults online and in person. Individuals responded to a survey asking about their caregivers’ work experiences, as well as their own social class identity, parent support, mentoring experiences, and career expectations. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling and findings revealed that, overall, the hypothesized model describing social class as partially mediating the relationship between caregiver work experiences and work expectations was an excellent fit to the data. Results of the model also suggested that the quality of caregiver work experiences and work expectations is more important to overall work experience than actual occupation. Gender differences were found in the overall fit of the model, as well as the influence of specific variables, such as mentoring. The results are discussed in the context of their contribution to existing literature on intergenerational social mobility and career development. Theoretical and practical implications, as well as limitations of the study, are considered.