Dissertations and Theses @ UNI

Is higher education the key to unlock the door of fortune? : a study of students' occupational aspirations

Daiyue Sun, University of Northern Iowa

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This study focuses on the relationship between students' social backgrounds and their occupational aspirations (in terms of becoming an authority, financial success and recognition in the workplace). By applying the status attainment theory and segmented assimilation theory, this study examines the significance of parental socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and social capital in predicting college freshmen's occupational aspirations using multivariate analysis. Interaction effects between the main predictors as well as control variables such as immigrant status, gender, school performance, motivations and skills are tested in the analysis. Results suggest that socioeconomic status is not statistical significance in predicting individuals' occupational aspirations in all models. African Americans and Asians have the highest level of occupational aspirations, while Native Americans have the lowest level of occupational aspirations without introducing interactions into the model. All three social capital variables are positively related to students' occupational aspirations, especially the effects for mentors/role models. Strong interaction effects between parental socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity variables have been found in the study as well. Results of interaction effects indicate that although Native Americans have the lowest levels of occupational aspirations at lower levels of parental SES, their levels of occupational aspiration increase radically with the increase of their parental SES levels. However, groups such as African Americans and Asians experience a decrease in their occupational aspirations with an increase of parental SES. The interactions between parental SES and social capital variables are weak. The interaction effects between race/ethnicity and social capital variables suggest that Asian students' occupational aspirations are benefited from their parents' expectations, while other races and other Latino students' occupational aspirations are promoted by studying with peers.