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You are reading: Socioeconomic status and the career aspirations of Australian school students: Testing enduring assumptions

Written by Jennifer Gore, Kathryn Holmes, Max Smith, Erica Southgate and Jim Albright, School of Education, The University of Newcastle Australia


Recent Australian government targets for higher education participation have produced a flurry of activity focused on raising the aspirations of students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. In this paper we test two key assumptions underpinning much of this activity: that students from low-SES backgrounds hold lower career aspirations; and that outreach activities appropriately target secondary school students, given that younger students’ aspirations are relatively under-developed. Drawing on a sample of 3,504 students, we map the intersection of the career aspirations of students in Years 4, 6, 8, and 10 with SES and other demographic variables in order to contribute to the evidence base for academic, educational, and political work on access to higher education and the policies, practices, and outcomes that might ensue. Aspirations are assessed in terms of occupational certainty, occupational choice, occupational prestige, and occupational justification. We found fewer differences by year level and by SES than expected. Our analyses demonstrate both the complexity of students’ career aspirations and some of the challenges associated with undertaking this kind of research, thus signalling the need for caution in the development of policy and interventions in this field.

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Gore, J., Holmes, K., Smith, M., Southgate, E. and Albright, J. (2015). Socioeconomic status and the career aspirations of Australian school students: Testing enduring assumptions. The Australian Educational Researcher, 42(2). 155-177. DOI: 10.1007/s13384-015-0172-5.
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