This thesis investigates the social influences on educational and occupational aspirations of young Australians. Research has shown that a number of social factors, including parental educational and occupational attainment, student’s academic achievement, significant other influence, ethnicity, immigrant generational status, gender, school sector type and regional area are significantly associated with educational and occupational aspirations. Using data from the Queensland based, Social Futures and Life Pathways, dataset of 7031 young students, aged 12-13 years, from a representative sample of government, independent and Catholic schools, this study aims to extend Australian sociological research on the determinants of variation in young Australians’ socioeconomic aspirations. The thesis aims to contribute to a better understanding of why some students aspire to vocational and tertiary post-school education, and high level occupations, and why others do not. To contribute to relevant social stratification theory I also attempt to identify whether the social determinants emphasised in status attainment theory, or those highlighted in immigration theories, better explain the variation in students’ educational and occupational aspirations. Further, this thesis aims to investigate whether the sub-population of children of immigrants demonstrates unique educational and occupational aspirations, and whether these suggest divergent socioeconomic outcomes.
To address these aims, I undertake a series of quantitative empirical analyses of the Social Futures and Life Pathways data. First, I investigate descriptively whether young people’s educational and occupational aspirations vary by immigrant generational status. I then use logistic regression modelling to examine whether immigrant generational status accounts for variation in students’ educational and occupational aspirations, and I find that immigrant generational status is significantly associated with students’ plans to complete high school, students’ plans for the year after school, and for students’ occupational aspirations. The analyses also indicate only partial support for the argument that children of immigrants display distinct socioeconomic aspirations from other students.
Second, I use logistic binomial and multinomial regression to analyse the extent to which parental socioeconomic background, immigrant generational status and ethnicity are associated with students’ abilities to articulate an educational and occupational aspiration, and with their actual educational and occupational aspirations. I find that parental socioeconomic background strongly accounts for both students’ ability to articulate an aspiration, and their specific educational and occupational aspirations. These relationships are stronger than the relationships by immigrant generational status or ethnicity. This finding is consistent with traditional status attainment literature, and supports theories of social reproduction, particularly with my findings that for some occupational groups, students were more likely to aspire to the same occupation as their father, over the other occupational choices.
Third, I contribute to status attainment literature by examining whether occupational aspirations account for educational aspirations. Occupation is a culturally salient indicator of status and identity that translates its important easily to students’ educational aspirations. This analysis contributes to the traditional status attainment model by Blau and Duncan (1967). I find that occupational aspirations significantly account for variability in educational aspirations, which suggests that students may form their educational aspirations based on their occupational aspirations.
Overall, this thesis has researched the influences of students’ educational and occupational aspirations and has contributed to Australian research on aspirations and the mechanisms of socioeconomic outcomes. The main conclusive findings of this thesis are, that parental socioeconomic background accounts for both students’ ability to articulate an educational and occupational aspiration, and for variation between students’ educational and occupational aspirations. There was limited evidence that second generation Australians displayed unique socioeconomic aspirations, though there was variability in students’ tertiary plans according to language spoken at home. These findings contribute to current understanding of status attainment in Australia by suggesting that students are influenced by their parental socioeconomic background and therefore may experience limited social mobility. My findings provide support for status attainment theory that predicts students reproduce their parental socioeconomic status.
The findings of this thesis could be complemented by future research conducted with longitudinal data to fully capture variation in students’ aspirations over time, and to analyse the outcomes of students’ socioeconomic aspirations. Further, future research could include comprehensive measures of students’ and parents’ country of birth, so as to analyse differences in aspirations both within and between ethnic groups. Lastly, future research would benefit by the consideration of the Australian school system, and the consideration of programs aimed at the alleviation of socio-demographic disadvantage, at greater depth, beyond simply identifying school sector type, to fully comprehend the socio-structural components of socioeconomic aspirations.