Young adults face an extremely competitive job market as a result of the recession. Young people who may have once had high aspirations for an academic or professional career may struggle if they are not able to modify those aspirations if those jobs become unattainable. “Whereas there is a large body of research on adolescent aspirations and achievement-related behaviors in the status attainment tradition and considerable interest in agentic action in the literatures of life course and life span development, little attention has been directed to the psychological orientations and behaviors in the post-adolescent period that foster achievement in the labor market in early adulthood and help young workers to weather turbulent economic times,” said Mike Vuolo of the Department of Sociology at Purdue University and lead author of a recent study exploring agency and aspirations. “The maintenance of high aspirations, the crystallization of career goals, and intensive job search behavior may be particularly important in this regard. But even in the worst recessions, some individuals suffer great losses while others remain relatively unscathed.”
After high school, the majority of graduates hold extremely high aspirations for education and careers. Vuolo noted, “In fact, over 90% of high school seniors in the United States plan to go to college, and well over half of high school seniors aspire to hold professional and managerial jobs in adulthood.” But people who cannot let go of high aspirations during times of turbulence may become discouraged and unproductive as they continue to pursue unrealistic goals. To see how agency influenced someone’s professional success or failure during an economic downturn, Vuolo examined data from 1,010 young adults as part of a larger study. Using agentic pathways as a measure, he discovered that agency and aspirations changed drastically over time. “Our pathways show that many young people maintain high educational aspirations, express certainty in achieving their occupational goals, and engage in active job search behaviors, especially in the earlier years of the transition,” said Vuolo. “Yet, our pathways also indicate that the majority of young people show change in their aspirations, career goals, and job search behaviors during this period.” Vuolo believes that because those who showed the most decline reported more unemployment and significantly lower earnings than those who maintained high aspirations, the findings underscore the relationship between agency and aspirations.
Vuolo, M., Staff, J., & Mortimer, J. T. (2011, November 7). Weathering the Great Recession: Psychological and Behavioral Trajectories in the Transition From School to Work. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026047
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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