The Effect of Agency on Job Seeking Young Adults During a Recession

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

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  • courtney


    December 3rd, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    Wow I would hate to be a recent college grad in this kind of job environment. When I graduated more than a few years ago I had potential employers contacting me before I even received my diploma. I kind of doubt that that there are very many grads who experience this kind of wooing today. Some of them are going to get lucky but most are going to be faced with the reality of taking a lower paying job than they may have initially dreamed of and having to make do with this until the economy eventually improves. It will happen, but they are going to have to have a little more patience with the search than we once had to face.

  • Catherine S

    Catherine S

    December 4th, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    It sure would be sad if this whole generation of college graduates allows themselves to be so disgusted and disappointed with the whole job search process that they are never able to get over that hump and live up to their full potential.

  • James


    December 4th, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    Once someone encounters so many let downs it would only seem natural that unemployment among them would go up and that goals and aspirations would decline

  • Joan.L


    December 5th, 2011 at 6:36 AM

    Never let your hopes down-Always believe you can do it. Although things around you may not be too bright it makes sense to remain optimistic because the state of your mind often dictates where you will end up.

    Think that there is no opportunity and you will not get any. Remain positive and sooner or later you will get an opportunity!

  • Adams


    December 5th, 2011 at 11:59 PM

    Hold your head high,be confident and you will find your path. Where there is a will there is a way!

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