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Select and read one of the following articles, located in the Topic 4 materials: The Career Development of Mexican American Adolescent Women: A Test of Social Cognitive Career Theory
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By: Lisa Y. Flores
Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University;
Karen M. O’Brien
Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park
Acknowledgement: This study was based on the doctoral dissertation of Lisa Y. Flores, which was conducted under the direction of Michael J. Patton. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 108th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, August 2000.
We thank Nancy Betz, Mary Heppner, and Fred Leong for helpful feedback on earlier versions of this article; Kristopher Preacher and Robert MacCallum for statistical consultation; Jamilla Griffin and Jason Quarantillo for assistance with coding data; and the students, teachers, counselors, and administrators of the participating schools.
Mexican American women constitute a significant portion of the American population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996), are underrepresented at all levels of education (Carter & Wilson, 1993; Lango, 1995; McNeill et al., 2001; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991), and are overrepresented in low-paying occupations traditionally occupied by women (Arbona, 1989; Arbona & Novy, 1991; Ortiz, 1995). Relatively little empirical research has been conducted to identify the variables that contribute to the educational and occupational underachievement of Mexican American women. Indeed, researchers have noted that the career development of Hispanics has received only slight consideration in the counseling and vocational literature (Arbona, 1990; Fouad, 1995; Hoyt, 1989; McNeill et al., 2001), and they have questioned the generalizability of career development theories to Hispanics (Arbona, 1990, 1995; Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Hackett, Lent, & Greenhaus, 1991). The purpose of this study was to investigate the applicability of a current model of career choice to the experiences of Mexican American adolescent women and to extend the current model to incorporate variables that are hypothesized to be salient to this population.
It is well documented that Hispanics are the least educated when compared with other major racial/ethnic groups in the United States and that, among Hispanics, Mexican Americans have the lowest high school and college completion rates (47% and 6.5%, respectively; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996). Mexican American women are less likely to graduate from college than their male counterparts (Ortiz, 1995; Tinajero, Gonzalez, & Dick, 1991), and their representation in higher education decreases significantly at each successive level (Carter & Wilson, 1993). Moreover, those Mexican American women who pursue higher education confront many stressors and may experience psychological distress as they seek to reconcile their career aspirations with their familial and cultural values (Niemann, 2001).
Education is related to occupational status, and thus, the restricted employment status among Mexican American women is not surprising given their low educational attainment. Arbona (1989) reported that, occupationally, Hispanic women were concentrated in low and mid-level technical, service-oriented, and clerical type jobs. According to Ortiz (1995), Mexican American women were less likely to be professionals or private business owners and earned less money when compared with women from other racial/ethnic groups and Mexican American men. Moreover, Mexican American women who were in professional occupations were more likely to choose traditional and low-status occupations (Ortiz, 1995).
A review of the literature on Mexican American women revealed inconsistencies between their educational and vocational achievements and aspirations. For example, Arbona and Novy (1991) reported that the majority of Mexican American college women in their study aspired to investigative and enterprising type jobs. It is interesting that the percentage of women who expected to enter these fields was smaller than the percentage of women who aspired to these careers, whereas the opposite was true of those who aspired and expected to enter fields that have typically represented traditional career options for women. Other studies revealed that Mexican American girls aspired to careers that required a college degree and to obtaining a postsecondary education (Hernandez, Vargas-Lew, & Martinez, 1994; Valenzuela, 1993). Reyes, Kobus, and Gillock’s (1999) study indicated that 87% of the girls in a sample of predominantly Mexican American 10th-grade students aspired to nontraditional or male-dominated careers. Clearly, a difference exists between Mexican American women’s educational and vocational aspirations and their actual achievements, suggesting that these women may not be realizing their educational and career potential.
Prior studies on the career development of Hispanics have focused primarily on their educational and career aspirations (Arbona & Novy, 1991; Hernandez et al., 1994; Reyes et al., 1999) and the factors postulated to be related to their educational success (Cardoza, 1991; Fisher & Padmawidjaja, 1999; Gandara, 1982; Gillock & Reyes, 1999; Hess & D’Amato, 1996; Keith & Lichtman, 1994; Lango, 1995; Ramos & Sanchez, 1995; Rodriguez, 1996; Valenzuela, 1993; Vasquez, 1982; Wycoff, 1996). Other studies have examined the barriers that Hispanic students anticipate in their educational and career endeavors (Luzzo, 1992; McWhirter, 1997). The research to date provides insight into the career development of Hispanic individuals but contains limitations that restrict its use.
First, several studies are descriptive in nature, and while helpful in understanding patterns of behavior with this group, they do not further knowledge regarding the salient predictors of career behaviors. Second, several studies included racially/ethnically diverse samples (in which the number of Hispanics were disproportionately small) or failed to report the ethnic background of Hispanic participants. Because of the educational and occupational differences between racial/ethnic groups and among Hispanics, investigating ethnically diverse subgroups individually seems warranted (Arbona, 1995). Another limitation of the existing studies is that many included both women and men. Given differences in Mexican American women’s and men’s educational attainment, occupational status, and socialization within the culture, women and men should be investigated separately to understand the effects of cultural and gender role socialization on career decisions. Finally, few studies have assessed the influence of cultural variables, such as acculturation, on Hispanics’ career-related behaviors (Arbona, 1995).
One notable exception to the research described above was a study investigating the educational plans and career expectations of Mexican American high school girls (McWhirter, Hackett, & Bandalos, 1998). McWhirter and her colleagues studied the utility of Farmer’s (1985) model of career commitment and aspirations in explaining the educational planning and career expectations of Mexican American adolescent women. They extended Farmer’s model by including acculturation and perceived barriers in their theoretical models. The results of this study indicated that their models described the educational and career plans of a sample of Mexican American girls; however, only a modest amount of variance was accounted for by the models. Thus, McWhirter et al. encouraged researchers to include additional variables when developing future models of the career development of Mexican American adolescent women. Moreover, McWhirter et al. suggested that Lent, Brown, and Hackett’s (1994) social cognitive career theory had promise for advancing knowledge regarding the career development of Mexican American women.
Lent and his colleagues (Lent et al., 1994) extended Bandura’s (1986) social cognitive theory and Hackett and Betz’s (1981) career self-efficacy theory to develop a social cognitive career theory (SCCT) that hypothesized the influence of personal, contextual, and social cognitive factors on interest formation, career goals, and performance. Of interest in this study are the propositions of SCCT that background contextual variables exert an influence on career self-efficacy, which in turn directly influences career interests. In addition, Lent et al. posited that career interests directly influence career goals and that career self-efficacy both directly and indirectly (through career interests) influences career goals. Finally, proximal contextual variables were hypothesized to exert direct effects on career goals (see Figure 1). Lent and his colleagues suggested that SCCT may be used to guide inquiry on the career development of women and racial/ethnic minorities, and they recently advocated for more research to test the hypotheses related to the contextual variables in their model (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2000). Recent studies provided partial support for the model with racially diverse middle school students (Fouad & Smith, 1996) as well as Asian American (Tang, Fouad, & Smith, 1999) and Black college students (Gainor & Lent, 1998); however, no studies to date have investigated the validity of SCCT with Mexican American adolescent women.
Figure 1. Portions of Lent, Brown, and Hackett’s (1994) model of career choice tested in the present study
To test this theory, when operationalizing the constructs advanced by Lent et al. (1994), we selected variables that were hypothesized to be salient for racial/ethnic minorities or women. Specifically, in our model, we operationalized background contextual variables to include acculturation level, feminist attitudes, and mothers’ modeling through educational attainment and occupation. Multicultural researchers have identified the importance of examining within-group differences of racial and ethnic subgroups, and Casas and Pytluk (1995) discussed acculturation as one variable that differentiates Hispanic subgroups or individuals within a subgroup. Moreover, McWhirter et al. (1998) noted that acculturation was the only variable that they added to Farmer’s (1985) model that accounted for significant variance in the educational aspirations of Mexican American girls. Other researchers also documented that acculturation was positively related to educational aspirations (Ramos & Sanchez, 1995), in addition to interest in nontraditional careers (Reyes et al., 1999), college attendance (Hurtado & Gauvain, 1997), and achievement styles (Gomez & Fassinger, 1994) among Hispanic students.
Other variables, specifically feminist and gender role attitudes, have been shown to relate to the career choices of young women (Betz, 1994; O’Brien & Fassinger, 1993), such that women with traditional gender role attitudes exhibited lower levels of career orientation and aspiration than women holding liberal gender role attitudes. Among Mexican American girls, nontraditional gender role attitudes were positively related to higher levels of educational and career expectations (McWhirter et al., 1998) and academic achievement (Valenzuela, 1993; Vasquez-Nuttal, Romero-Garcia, & De Leon, 1987). For Mexican American women, cultural expectations about gender roles may result in traditional gender role attitudes or nonfeminist attitudes (Ginorio, Gutierrez, Cauce, & Acosta, 1995; Reid, Haritos, Kelly, & Holland, 1995), which in turn may contribute to lower levels of career achievement.
In addition, parental factors, such as occupation and educational level, were found to relate to academic achievement and parental involvement in Mexican American students’ educational and career planning (Keith & Lichtman, 1994). With regard to the influence of mothers, having a mother who attended college was predictive of college attendance and persistence among Latinas (Cardoza, 1991). However, other studies that assessed the role of parents’ educational or occupational attainment in children’s educational and career aspirations reported no relation (Fisher & Padmawidjaja, 1999; Hernandez et al., 1994; Hess & D’Amato, 1996; Lango, 1995; Reyes et al., 1999), possibly because of the highly skewed number of parents with lower educational and occupational levels in these samples. The influence of mothers’ educational level and occupational traditionality were included in the present study to determine their influence on daughters’ career development.
According to SCCT, these background variables were hypothesized to influence nontraditional career self-efficacy or confidence in pursuing nontraditional career-related tasks for women (Lent et al., 1994). In turn, nontraditional career self-efficacy should exert a direct effect on both nontraditional career interests and career goals (i.e., career choice prestige, career choice traditionality, and career aspirations). Indeed, these relations have been supported in prior studies, which reported that career self-efficacy was related to career interests and careers considered among Hispanic students (Bores-Rangel, Church, Szendre, & Reeves, 1990; Church, Teresa, Rosebrook, & Szendre, 1992; Lauver & Jones, 1991). In addition, research has shown that career interests were related to careers considered among Hispanic students (Bores-Rangel et al., 1990; Church et al., 1992). These findings were consistent with SCCT, which posited a direct link between career interests and career goals.
We also hypothesized, in accordance with SCCT (Lent et al., 1994), that the proximal contextual variables of perceived support from parents and perceptions of barriers will influence career choice prestige, traditionality, and career aspirations. Among Latinas, encouragement and emotional support from families have been found to be predictive of educational achievement (Hernandez et al., 1994; Keith & Lichtman, 1994; Ramos & Sanchez, 1995) and college attendance (Vasquez, 1982; Wycoff, 1996). With regard to perceived barriers, Hispanic students reported experiencing more barriers to education than students from other racial/ethnic groups (Luzzo, 1992; McWhirter, 1997), and Mexican American women who experienced negative family attitudes related to their college attendance were more likely to attend college close to home (Wycoff, 1996). McWhirter et al. (1998) found no relation among perceived barriers and Mexican American girls’ educational or career plans. However, they suggested that the influence of perceived barriers on academic and vocational goals be further tested with additional samples. It is possible that Mexican American adolescent women’s increased levels of perceived barriers to their educational or career goals may alter their decision making, such that they plan to pursue careers that present the least resistance.
In summary, this study was designed to test several tenets of SCCT (Lent et al., 1994) with a sample of Mexican American adolescent women. Specifically, we explored the influence of background contextual variables, namely, acculturation level, feminist attitudes, mother’s educational level, and mother’s occupational traditionality on nontraditional career self-efficacy. Additionally, we investigated the contributions of nontraditional career self-efficacy, nontraditional career interests, parental support, and perceived barriers to career choice prestige, career choice traditionality, and career aspirations. These dependent variables were selected because of their importance to women’s career development (Fitzgerald, Fassinger, & Betz, 1995; O’Brien & Fassinger, 1993). A secondary purpose of this study was to obtain descriptive information regarding participants’ demographic characteristics, career choices, plans following high school graduation, choice of colleges/universities, and reasons for choosing these schools, given the lack of data regarding this population and their career plans. Method Participants
Participants were Mexican American adolescent women enrolled in their senior year of high school. At the same time, Mexican American adolescent men were surveyed for a later study. Participants were drawn from two large public high schools in a mid-sized town (a population of approximately 30,000) in south Texas. The community is close to the United States–Mexican border and is heavily influenced by the Mexican culture. A high percentage of U.S. citizens who are of Mexican descent live in this area, and this is reflected in the student population at the high schools, in which almost 95% of the students are Mexican American.
A total of 931 surveys were distributed to students; 831 were returned (450 female, 381 male), resulting in an 89% overall return rate. Women who were in their senior year of high school and who identified as Mexican American were included in this study (n = 377). Of these women, 13 were dropped from the study because of incomplete data, resulting in a total sample of 364. Participants ranged in age from 16 to 21 years with a mean age of 17.47 (SD = 0.70). The average number of people living at home was 4.83 (SD = 1.71; range = 2 to 13).
Eighteen percent of the students (n = 65) reported that they were first-generation Mexican American, with 37.9% (n = 138) second generation, 11.3% (n = 41) third generation, 19.2% (n = 70) fourth generation, and 10.7% (n = 39) fifth generation. With regard to acculturation level, 17% (n = 61) were categorized as “very Mexican oriented,” 38% (n = 138) “Mexican oriented to approximately balanced bicultural,” 34% (n = 123) “slightly Anglo oriented bicultural,” 10% (n = 37) “strongly Anglo oriented,” and 1% (n = 5) “very assimilated, Anglicized.”
The educational level of the female and male head of household, respectively, was as follows: completed elementary school, 24% and 21%; attended high school, 25% and 23%; high school graduate, 19% and 21%; attended college/university, 14% and 12%; college/university graduate, 10% and 12%; and graduate or professional degree, 2% and 1%.
Eighty-seven percent (n = 317) of the students planned to attend a 2- or 4-year college/university following their high school graduation, with the remaining students indicating plans to attend technical school (5.5%), work (3.2%), enlist in the military (2.1%), and marry or stay at home (0.5%). Among students with intentions to continue their education at a 2- or 4-year college/university, almost half (43.2%, n = 137) reported that they would work either full time (1.9%, n = 6) or part time (41.3%, n = 131). Over a third (39.1%, n = 124) planned to attend the local 4-year university, and 19.2% (n = 61) planned to attend the local 2-year community college. The most often cited reasons for choosing to attend the college or university of their choice were because it was close to home and family (36.5%, n = 116), had a good program of study (10.7%, n = 34), was a good college/university (6.9%, n = 22), and was affordable or inexpensive to attend (4.1%, n = 13). Sixty-eight percent (n = 214) indicated that they would rely on financial aid (e.g., loans, grants, and work study) to finance their education, whereas 31.5% (n = 100) hoped to earn scholarships, 26.5% (n = 84) planned to receive financial support from their parents or other family members, and 25% (n = 78) planned to work. Procedure
Data collection occurred during the fall semester of the school year. Student participation was solicited through English IV classes because every senior was required to enroll in this class. Data collection occurred across 4 days, and Lisa Y. Flores met with every English IV section (n = 46) at both schools. English teachers escorted their students to a central room at the beginning of the class period and stayed to monitor students’ behaviors.
Packets containing an informed-assent form, an entry form for cash prizes, and the research instruments were distributed to students as they entered the room. The questionnaires were counterbalanced to avoid order effects from fatigue. Participants were told that the investigator was interested in studying the career development of Mexican American adolescents. Students were told that it would take them most, if not all, of the class period to complete the questionnaires and were encouraged to work quickly. The investigator told the students that two of the surveys looked very similar (each listed the same occupations and educational programs), but these surveys asked students to rate either interests or skills. Students were informed of a possible follow-up study and were invited to participate in future studies. As an incentive to participate in the study, students who completed and returned the surveys were eligible for a random drawing for cash prizes (10 prizes for $20 and 1 prize for $50). Instruments
The Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican Americans (ARSMA–II; Cuellar, Arnold, & Maldonado, 1995) was a 30-item scale that assessed association with and identity with the Mexican and Anglo cultures on two independent subscales. Participants responded to the items using a 5-point scale ranging from not at all (1) to extremely often or almost always (5). An acculturation score was calculated by subtracting the mean score for items on the Anglo Orientation Subscale (AOS) from the mean score for items on the Mexican Orientation Subscale (MOS). On the basis of their acculturation score, participants were categorized into one of the five acculturation levels described by Cuellar et al. (1995). Levels range from very Mexican oriented (1) to very assimilated (5). Middle categories represented bicultural individuals. Thus, high scores were indicative of a strong orientation toward the Anglo culture.
The ARSMA–II, as well as prior to its revision, the ARSMA, is one of the most widely used measures to assess acculturation among Mexican Americans, and evidence suggests that it is a reliable and valid instrument. Adequate internal consistency coefficients have been reported for the two subscales with multiple samples (range from .79 to .83 for the AOS and .87 to .91 for the MOS; Cuellar et al., 1995; Cuellar & Roberts, 1997; Lessenger, 1997). Reliability coefficients of .77 for the AOS and .91 for the MOS were obtained in the present study.
Cuellar and his colleagues also reported a test–retest reliability estimate for the AOS and MOS over a 2-week interval of .94 and .96, respectively. Concurrent validity was assessed by comparing scores on the ARSMA–II with scores on the ARSMA and yielded a correlation coefficient of .89. Concurrent validity for the ARSMA–II was further supported when its two subscales correlated in the expected direction with the dominant group and ethnic group subscales of the Stephenson Multigroup Acculturation Scale (Stephenson, 2000). Lessenger (1997) provided additional support for concurrent validity when she reported that acculturation scores on the ARSMA–II correlated positively with other acculturation measures. Construct validity was supported when acculturation scores on the ARSMA–II were compared across generations, and differences were found between generation levels in the expected directions (Cuellar et al., 1995; Lessenger, 1997).
The Attitudes Toward Feminism and the Women’s Movement Scale (FWM; Fassinger, 1994) was used to measure feminist attitudes. The FWM is a 10-item scale that assessed attitudes about the feminist movement. Participants rated their agreement with the items along a 5-point scale ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). Scale scores were obtained by averaging the items; high scores reflect profeminist attitudes.
Fassinger (1994) reported that the FWM had high internal consistency (α = .89), and O’Brien and Fassinger (1993) reported an internal reliability coefficient of .82 for the FWM with a sample of adolescent women. Cronbach’s alpha for this sample was .68. Enns and Hackett (1990) reported a 2-week test–retest reliability coefficient of .81 with female college students. Convergent validity for the FWM was supported when the FWM was positively correlated with measures assessing attitudes toward women, gender roles, and feminism (Enns & Hackett, 1990; Fassinger, 1994). In addition, the FWM correlated positively with items assessing feminist identification and favorability toward the women’s movement (Fassinger, 1994). Finally, Enns and Hackett (1990) reported that the FWM correlated in the expected directions with both interest and involvement in feminist activities. Divergent validity estimates revealed that the FWM was not measuring gender role characteristics, dogmatism, and social desirability (Fassinger, 1994).
Mother’s level of education
A single item asked participants to indicate the highest level of education completed by their mother. Options ranged from elementary school to graduate/professional school. High scores represented high levels of education.
Mother’s occupational traditionality
An item asked participants to indicate their mother’s occupation, which was later categorized according to traditionality. Traditionality of mother’s career was computed on the basis of the percentage of women employed in a given career and was obtained through the Statistical Abstract of the United States (1998), a publication of the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The U.S. Census Bureau relies on information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Employment and Earnings to report these data. Scores ranged from 6 to 99, with high scores representing careers with high concentrations of women. This indicator of career orientation has been used in previous studies of women’s career development (O’Brien, 1996; O’Brien & Fassinger, 1993; O’Brien, Friedman, Tipton, & Linn, 2000).
Nontraditional career self-efficacy
Self-efficacy expectations with regard to nontraditional occupations were assessed using a short form of the occupational self-efficacy questionnaire used by Church et al. (1992). The self-efficacy questionnaire used in this study was comparable with career self-efficacy measures used by Betz and Hackett (1981)and Lauver and Jones (1991). The original occupational questionnaire contained a total of 31 occupations for which participants rated their confidence in their ability to successfully learn to perform the job. The nontraditional career self-efficacy scale used for this study was modified to include seven male-dominated occupations (e.g., electronic equipment repairer, police officer, mechanical engineer). Occupations were categorized according to the percentage of women in the occupation according to U.S. census data (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). A brief description of the occupation was provided for each job title.
Participants were asked to rate their confidence in their ability and skills to successfully learn to do the jobs. Participants responded to the items using a scale ranging from very unsure (1) to very sure (4). Although studies typically use 5-point scales to measure strength of self-efficacy, we followed the reasoning of Bores-Rangel et al. (1990), whose sample predominantly consisted of Hispanic students, that students may dependably and meaningfully discriminate these four bipolar levels. Occupational self-efficacy scores for male-dominated occupations were obtained by averaging the responses to the items. High scores reflected strong levels of nontraditional career self-efficacy.
Church et al. (1992) reported an internal consistency reliability of .95 for the 31-item self-efficacy scale with a sample of predominantly Hispanic racial/ethnic minority high school students. Convergent validity was supported with a sample of Mexican American boys when nontraditional career self-efficacy was positively related to nontraditional career interests, consideration of nontraditional careers, and selection of careers dominated by men (Flores, 2000). Divergent validity estimates indicated that nontraditional career self-efficacy was not related to acculturation or feminist attitudes (Flores, 2000). Church et al. reported that the self-efficacy scale was not measuring aptitude. An alpha coefficient of .81 for the short version of the nontraditional self-efficacy scale was obtained in the present study.
Nontraditional career interests
Students’ nontraditional occupational interests were assessed using the same male-dominated occupations on the nontraditional career self-efficacy scale. Participants were asked to indicate their interest in the jobs listed on a scale ranging from dislike (1) to like (3); this scale is similar to ones used in other career interest inventories. Scoring the nontraditional career interests scale consisted of summing the items and dividing by the number of items to obtain a mean score. High scores reflected strong levels of interest for the nontraditional or male-dominated occupations.
Church et al. (1992) reported an internal consistency reliability of .86 for the 31-item interest scale with a sample comprising mainly Hispanic students. Construct validity was supported when the original scale correlated positively with another interest measure (Church et al., 1992). In addition, among a group of Mexican American boys, it correlated positively with nontraditional career self-efficacy, consideration of nontraditional careers, and choice of nontraditional careers, providing support for convergent validity (Flores, 2000). It was not related to feminist attitudes (Flores, 2000). Cronbach’s alpha was .74 for the present study.
The Career Support Scale (CSS; Binen, Franta, & Thye, 1995) was used to assess the amount of perceived support and encouragement that participants received in their career pursuits from their parents. The CSS was adapted by assessing support from both parents concurrently rather than individually and by reducing the number of items (10 items that were cross-listed on both Mother and Father subscales were retained). Sample items included “My parents agree with my career goals” and “My parents and I often discuss my career plans.” Participants responded to the 10 items using a 5-point scale ranging from almost never (1) to almost always (5). Scale scores were obtained by averaging the items. High scores reflected strong levels of perceived support from parents.
Reliability estimates were .87 for the 22-item Mother–CSS and .90 for the 18-item Father–CSS (Binen et al., 1995). Internal consistency for the modified CCS used in the present study was .76. Discriminant validity estimates indicated that the Mother and Father subscales were not significantly correlated with social desirability (Binen et al., 1995).
Perceived occupational barriers
The Perceptions of Barriers scale (POB; McWhirter, 1997) was a 24-item scale that assessed ethnic and gender-related occupational and educational barriers. Because the present study assessed career choice goals, only those items of the POB that measured participants’ job-related barriers were included. Eight items, which assessed anticipated future gender and ethnic discrimination in the workplace, were used for this study. Individuals responded to the items using a scale ranging from strongly agree (1) to strongly disagree (5). Scale scores were derived by averaging the responses. High scores reflected low anticipation of gender or ethnic discrimination in a career.
McWhirter (1997) reported an alpha coefficient of .89 for the job discrimination items, and a reliability estimate of .91 was obtained with the present sample. Construct validity was supported when McWhirter (1997) found significant differences in anticipated job discrimination between Mexican American and E