VOCATIONAL CHOICE PATTERNS OF URBAN ADOLESCENTS: A CASE STUDY K. B....
VOCATIONAL CHOICE PATTERNS OF URBAN ADOLESCENTS:
A CASE STUDY
K. B. AKHILESH
This study aimed at generating a comprehensive data base of vocational patterns of young urban adolescents—a
data base that will be useful for school counsellors and vocational guidance experts. An attempt was also made to
examine the influence of the adolescent's age, socio-economic status (SES) and gender on his or her vocational
patterns. A survey methodology was adapted. Two hundred and forty adolescents were asked to give their ratings
for one hundred and seventy six occupations. Differences were seen in the vocation choice patterns of these
adolescents as a function of SES and gender. This was not as vivid for the age factor. This study suggests a need
to have well defined vocational programmes at the exploration stage itself.
Dr. K. B. Akhilesh is Assistant Professor, Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Science,
The problem of population growth is all too common in India, and this, in turn, engenders
rampant poverty. The poor and middle class families find it difficult to keep up with the
inflationary economy and their standard of living is adversely affected. To add to this dismal
picture, we have an acute problem of unemployment. The limited resources of a family in
the face of increasing needs have resulted in the need for every member to contribute to
the family income. Further, with rapid industrialisation and specialisation, the variety of job
openings has increased and the need to make a vocational choice has become a major
Our educational system is so designed that, adolescents of 15 or 16. years of age, are
expected and required to decide upon the area or field they want to branch into. However,
at this age, the adolescent may not be exposed to the occupations and opportunities
available, and may not even know his/her interests, aptitudes and preferences. It is here
that the vocational guidance system is required to help the individual plan his/her career
well in advance, so that his/her future education can be channelized to meet relevant
requirements or acquire qualifications. The current situation is such that, a growing number
of youths find themselves in a situation in which they are not qualified for any specialized
job and are misfits in the mediocre jobs that they are able to find. Many of them are also
considered as "non-employables" by the job market or employers.
This paper presents the results found in a study conducted to examine the vocational
choice patterns of the middle class, urban adolescents in Bangalore City, India.
A Review of Previous Literature
Vocational choice patterns have been studied as a culturally determined phenomenon, in
relation to socio-economic conditions (Welch, 1956; George and Mathew, 1966; Yadav,
1987; Osuji, 1976; Teahan, 1974; Shashi Prabha, 1987); in relation to age, emphasising
the developmental process (Gessell et al.,
1956; Tyler, 1964; Hewitt, 1975) and gender
related phenomena (Kanungo and Panda, 1966; Hewitt, 1975; Barnett, 1975; Sahoo, 1981,
Singh and Prasad (1962) found occupational stereo-types to be the most potent determi-
nants of occupational choice. Davis (1965) found that amongst college students teaching
ranked highest, followed by business administration and engineering. Rezler (1968)
266 K. B. Akhilesh
studying values and occupational choices of young Indians found that jobs involving social
services, having scope for self expression and tame ranked highest. In a study by Chitnis,
Gore and Desai (1970) on Indian boys and girls throughout India, it was found that boys
sought occupations around the group IV category, i.e.
executive and scientific/technical
personnel, like managers, officers, physicists, analysts, chemists and doctors, while hardly
any of the girls expressed a like preference; girls opted more for clerical and allied
occupations than did boys. Deb and Agarwal (1976) using the personal interview, found
occupational goals of post-graduate students to be related to research, teaching and
Preparation for one's vocational life, it is believed, normally begins during the period of
adolescence, by the end of which a stable and more realistic pattern of vocational
preference is established. Vocational choice is a process rather far removed from reality
in early youth but involving reality in increasing degrees with increasing age (Super, 1953).
Gessell, llg and Ames (1956) in their classic longitudinal study of vocational choice
behaviour at different age levels of 10 years to 16 years found children of 10 years to be
rather indefinite about their future careers while the 16 years olds were somewhat more
In a 12 year longitudinal study of occupational preference, Tyler (1964) reported that most
adolescents begin to crystallize their occupational choice when they are about 13 or 14
years of age. By the time they are 16 years old however, adolescents show a more realistic
appraisal of the preparation required for their chosen occupation.
Hewitt (1975) studied vocational aspirations in elementary school boys and girls and found
that with increasing age, boys perceived their job perspectives as broadening while girls did
not. However, Hewitt also found that with increasing age, the students became less certain
about what they would become. This uncertainty was associated with heightened
awareness of vocational possibilities among boys but not among the girls.
Whether or not adolescents can plan ahead with vocational choice also depends upon the
economic stability of the family. The selection and preparation for an occupation are
particularly difficult for the middle class adolescent, who strives to get a job that will make
him/her upwardly mobile, or at least able to maintain his/her social status. The task is
somewhat less difficult for the upper class adolescent whose position is more secure and
the cost of education is not a burden. To some degree, the task is more easily achieved
by the lower class adolescents, who shift readily from one job to another, but this case is
misleading because of the danger of their adaptiveness to mere change in equal level jobs
In 1956 Welch found that monetary gain is the salient criterion of choice and success in
an occupation. In a study involving students leaving school, George and Mathew (1966)
found vocational aspirations significantly related to parental income, occupation, sex, caste
and urbanisation. Yadav (1976) studying the motives of vocational preferences in 600
students found socio-economic status and intelligence to influence their preference. He
found economically better students took science streams and poorer students took arts.
Shashi Prabha (1982) found a significant difference between the vocational choice of upper
and low middle class persons.
The gender of the adolescent, to a large extent, determines vocational choice (Hurlock,
1953). Sex roles are relentlessly drilled in at a very young age (Watson, 1959) and, thus,
children at an early age select sex-appropriate play material and activities (Bandura, 1969).
The most significant factor in sex typing is the child's cognition - his/her selection and
Vocational Choice Patterns 267
organisation of perception, knowledge and understanding of the sex role concept. This
process is initiated when the child is labelled a boy or girl at birth. Kanungo and Panda
(1966) studying job perception among adolescents found girls have a more restricted
choice of vocation than boys. But for the group as a whole, medicine, engineering, law,
teaching, research and administration were the indicated professional hierarchy. Hewitt
(1975) suggested that girls learn sex role expectations for adult occupations very early in
life, even before real vocational decisions have to be made. Barnett (1975) found men to
prefer high prestige occupations more than women. Sahoo (1981) studying the vocational
preferences of 400 boys and girls of 10th standard students in Orissa, found the most
preferred vocation for both sexes was agriculture, electronics, home-science, fisheries,
dairy farming, nursing and music. While boys preferred mechanical and electrical jobs, girls
preferred home-science, spinning, weaving, nursing and the like.
From the above views it is clear that age, socio-economic status and gender have
significant influence on vocational choice patterns.
The objective of the present cross-sectional study is two fold;
(1) To generate comprehensive information on occupational preferences among urban
Indian high school students.
(2) To understand the patterns of vocational choice in terms of age, socio-economic status
(SES) and gender.
Null hypotheses were formulated to see if there was a significant difference in the mean
ratings of occupations between 8th and 10th standard students between high and low
middle class socio-economic status students, and between male and female students.
A survey type of research was adopted for this study. The structure of the research involved
a 2x2x2 factorial design where three independent variables, namely, age (eighth standard
13-14 years and tenth standard 15-16 years old students), socio-economic status (high
and low middle class students) and gender (male and female students) were juxtaposed
in order to study their independent effects on the dependent variable-vocational choice
Four hundred students (between the age groups of 13-16 years) from three randomly
chosen schools in Bangalore City were administered the Kuppuswamy's Socio Economic
Scale. A sample consisting of 240 students, was screened and selected from the original
sample of 400, so that, 120 belonged to the upper middle class SES. (The SES class II
corresponds to upper middle class SES and the SES class III corresponds to the lower
middle class category in the Kuppuswamy's SES Scale). An Occupaional Preference Scale
(OPS) was prepared to identify the vocational choice patterns of these 240 students. The
items of the occupation preference scale were taken from the international standard
classification of occupations (ILO, 1972), Subsequently, a list of the occupations was
subjected to validation by an expert group of vocational instructors for their suggestions and
eliminations. Each of the selected 176 occupations were placed on a rating scale similar
to the Likert Scale; however, provision was given to the students to express their preference
MEAN AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS OF MOST PREFERRED AND LEAST PREFERRED OCCUPATIONS SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS WISE, GENDER WISE AND AGE
Vocational Choice Patterns 269
on a 7 point scale, since it was necessary for this age group of adolescents to be able to
make a finer discrimination of their preferences, as the number of job opportunities listed
in the scale were many. For example:
The reliability coefficients were determined for a sample of the occupations of the scale,
on a sample of the population using Test Retest Reliability (r=0.91).
The students indicated their preference for each occupation by putting a check mark
on the 7 point scale. The rating of each of the students for the 176 occupations were
recorded. The mean ratings and standard deviations were calculated for each occupation.
Further, for each of the variables, occupations preferred most and preferred least were
The parametric method of t-test was used under the null hypothesis to estimate from the
sample statistics, the probability of a true difference between the two parameters, namely:
(a) eighth and 10th standard students, (b) high and low middle class SES students, (c) male
and female students.
Vocational Preferences for the Sample as a Whole
The 176 vocations were rank ordered on the basis of their mean ratings and the most
preferred and least preferred occupations were identified for the sample as a whole (Table
1). A review of literature (Cunliffe, 1927; Beeson and Tope, 1928; Kanungo and Panda,
1966; Davis, 1965; Sahoo, 1981), reveals that engineering, medicine, teaching and
agriculture in that order, have been the most preferred occupations in the past years among
students in different countries. In this study, students seem to readily opt for specialisation
in computers, as 'computer engineer' has been rated highest (mean = 5.94). Computer
operator jobs also have a high preferential mean rating. Some other popular occupations
in order of preference were aircraft pilot, sportsman, electronics engineer, singer, flight
engineer, medical specialist, detective and lawyer. The least preferred occupations were
that of watchman (mean rating = 1.6), dry cleaner, waiter, fisherman, house-keeper, prison
guard, pawn broker, plumber, shoe maker and postman.
Influence of Age on Vocational Preference
Most theories on developmental patterns of vocational choice emphasize that individuals
proceed uninterruptedly from their early fantasy loaded choices, through choices based
upon their interest, capacities and values to the crystallization and specification of their
choice which gets implemented by entering an occupation. There were 22 occupations for
which 't' values were significant at the 0.05 or 0.01 level. Some of the occupations are
highlighted in Table 2.
Influence of Socio Economic Status (SES) on Vocational Preference
From the study, it is interesting to notice how the lower middle class adolescents appear
to be striving towards upward social mobility. They showed a preference pattern similar to
MEAN AND COMPARATIVE SIGNIFICANCE 't' VALUES
SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS WISE, GENDER WISE AND AGE WISE GROUPS
Vocational Choice Patterns 271
that of upper middle class students in this study (Table 1). Both lower and upper middle
class preferred computer engineer the most, however, this occupation was given a higher
mean rating by the upper middle class students. It is also interesting to find that both the
SES groups preferred the job of a watchman the least. The lower middle class appear to
scorn the jobs commonly taken up by the lower class workers in India, and have preferred
jobs with higher social prestige and monetary gain.
Some of the occupations for which the 't' values were significant at the 0.01 level are:
lawyer, mechanical engineer, general manager, news reader, mechanic, contractor retailer
and clerk. The lower middle class students have given a higher mean rating than the upper
middle class for these occupations as seen in Table 2.
Influence of Gender on Vocational Preference
It is clear from this study that there are significant differences in the vocational preferences
of boys and girls because of their sex role socialisation (Tables 1 and 2). Traditionally, the
girls' vocational identity tended to be limited to that of a wife and mother (Bradwick, 1971);
boys were brought up oriented towards the future primarily in terms of an occupational
identity (Douvan and Adelson, 1966). Feather and Said (1983) found strong gender effects,
for male dominance ratings, with males preferring gender congruent, ideal, realistic
occupations more than females. While the thrill of being a pilot attracted the boys in this
study, the glamour of being a 'singer' attracted the girls. Boys disliked the occupation of
'baby sitter' the most. In the Indian context, the job of a baby-sitter is generally reserved
for females! Girls of the sample disliked the male dominated jobs like a watchman, prison
guard, fisherman, plumber and waiter, the most. There were 52 (out of 176) occupations
that had a significant 't' value at 0.01 level. Some of them were singer, baby-sitter, nurse,
college teacher, social worker—all of these occupations received a higher mean rating
from the girls. Twenty three occupations had significant 't' values at the 0.05 level. One
hundred and one (out of the 176) occupations appear to be 'sex neutral', notable among
them being computer engineer, computer operator, electronics engineer, actor, dairy farm
worker, grain miller, civil engineer, metallurgist, counsellor, salesman, postman, goldsmith,
economist, factory foreman, railway supervisor and so on.
An incidental investigation into whether or not adolescents preferred their parents'
occupations, showed that eighth standard students tended to prefer their parents'
occupation more than the students of tenth standard, who seemed to prefer to make their
own independent choice of a vocation. The higher middle class SES group preferred the
parents' occupation more compared to the lower middle class SES. Amongst the male and
female students, the males preferred their parents' choice more than the females, showing
that the trend in Indian society is fast changing, and girls too like to be independent in their
The present study was an attempt to contribute to school counsellors and vocational
guidance experts, information on the vocational choice patterns of the adolescent
community. Social planners cannot ignore the vocational preferences that adolescents
make, and must be guided by factors such as their gender, age and SES.
Making the right choice of a vocation is a pressing problem of the Indian urban youth today.
Ignorance on the part of a large number of students regarding the various job openings and
specializations open to them was noticed during this study. There is a need for providing
272 K. B. Akhilesh
more occupational information at high school levels through various media that catch the
attention of the youth.
Career planning, and developing programmes at the exploration stage of the career is a
complex process. Parents, teachers and mass media have great influence on vocational
choice. Career or vocational choices, if not managed properly, can lead to serious
maladjustment at different levels. Further, such planning has to be integrated with special
institutions at the high school level. The planning process should not only be guided by the
pattern of choices, but it should also influence the choice making process itself. The
following are the implications of the study:
(i) High school level initiations about providing information on career choices should be
increased and strengthened.
(ii) Certain occupations are not preferred by many educated adolescents because of the
low social status assigned to them. This attitude towards social class must be
eliminated in India, so that adolescents can choose occupations in which their interest
lies, for example, even occupations like that of a hair-dresser, beautician, dry cleaner,
and so on.
(iii) There are certain vocations which are 'sex neutral'.It is highly desirable to reduce sex
role orientation and increase the choices in the 'sex neutral vocations.
(iv) Research into the vocational choice patterns of the rural adolescent community would
make a very interesting comparison.
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