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Changes in occupational aspiration across cohorts and over the life course

In an article published in the March 2008 issue of Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, Xiaoling Shu and Margaret Marini examine change in prestige, education, earning potential, and sex type dimensions in occupational aspirations in the U.S. of young people ages 14–29 between 1966 and 1980.

They find that after their initial formation under ascriptive influences, occupational aspirations continue to evolve as new life experiences associated with changed societal values and opportunity structure provide impetus for change. The Civil Rights and the Women’s Movements contributed to age-, cohort-, and period-related increases in women and black men’s occupational aspirations. The economic downturn after 1973 also played a role, reducing young men’s occupational aspirations and reverting black men’s aspirations to the same level as that prior to the 1970s, negating the positive influences of the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to these important historical forces, socioeconomic background, race, and gender retain a pervasive impact on the regulation of young people’s aspirations in adolescent and young adulthood in the United States.

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