Correspondence of children’s anticipated vocations, perceived competencies, and interests: Results from an Italian sample

Prime 2010 Italy

Journal of Vocational Behavior 77 (2010) 58–62

  • Dominic R. Primé
  • Laura Nota
  • Lea Ferrari
  • Donna E. Palladino Schultheiss
  • Salvatore Soresi
  • Terence J.G. Tracey

The results obtained from this study indicate that there is little correspondence between children’s anticipated occupations and their current interests and competence perceptions (i.e., self-efficacy). The result calls into question research examining the anticipated occupations of children in general and also occupational aspirations, given the lack of clarity of these constructs as they pertain to children in the literature and in children themselves. As Tracey and Ward (1998) have argued, occupational aspirations and expectations of children are not based on any assessment of what they like or are good at but more likely a function of occupational familiarity; they like what they know and this knowledge is often very limited to occupations in their immediate environment. Given this lack of knowledge of occupations in general, it is not always clear what occupational aspirations or occupational expectations represent in this age group.

Recent years have seen increased interest in children’s vocational preferences. However, in contrast to the literature on adult interests, relatively little is known about the correspondence between children’s anticipated occupations, their self-assessment of competence, and their general interests.  This study examines how much children’s interests match with their competence perceptions and the extent to which both of these are related to the careers they anticipate having.

Most current models of career development and choice (e.g., Gottfredson, 1996; Holland, 1997; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994) posit that occupational goals result from the expression of an individuals’ interests and perceptions of competence (i.e., self-efficacy). Indeed, there is a wealth of research on the covariation of these three variables in adults. However, as common as this assumption is in all of our models of career choice for adults, it has not been examined in the literature assessing the processes by which children express vocational preferences.

A sample of 190 Italian school children were asked what activities they like, what they thought they were good at and what job they expected to have when they grew up. The responses showed no relation between anticipated occupations and either interest or perceived competence. This opens the question of what children base their aspirations on. Their anticipated occupations do not appear to be based on realistic criteria. However, the results demonstrated a correspondence between interest and competence and this correspondence was similar for boys and girls and increased with age.


These results indicate little relation between anticipated occupation and either interest or competence. The only place where there was correspondence was between competence and interests.

The findings from this study indicate that there is some correspondence between perceptions of competence and interest (i.e., children tend to be interested in activities that they perceive themselves to be good at). This research supports focusing on both interests and competence perceptions as they are relate to each other. This is especially pertinent when considered with the finding that the magnitude of the relation increased with age; meaning, the older the children the greater the correspondence between interests and competence perceptions.

There were also some differences in correspondence between interests and correspondence across gender. While there was a correspondence between interest and competence in both sexes, it appeared that girls exhibited a slightly stronger tendency than boys to be interested in activities they have some perceived competence in; however, the relative difference in these values indicates a very minor difference and could be argued by some to be negligible.