Young People’s Backgrounds, Aspirations and Outcomes: Identifying Patterns, Seeking Explanation, Proposing Solutions

This seminar focused on the impact of social background and aspirations on employment outcomes for young people.

Abstract: There has been a long-standing concern expressed by politicians, media outlets and social scientists with young people’s occupational aspirations, and particularly with the notion that low aspiration or lack of aspiration might be having a significant impact in driving rises in youth unemployment and contributing to the associated social problems connected with it. However, there has been relatively little work examining the interaction of social class background and aspirations on young people’s employment outcomes. This presentation drew on a study using the British Cohort Study to explore these issues. Rather than supporting the idea that low aspiration or lack of aspiration were the overarching problems they are sometimes assumed to be, the study found¬†that a much more common situation is for young people from poorer backgrounds to hold aspirations higher than they are likely to be able to achieve given their educational expectations. Further, both uncertainty and lack of clear aspirations are far more detrimental for young people from poorer backgrounds than their better-off peers. The implications of these findings for understanding young people’s transitions to work were discussed.

Scott is Head of Research in the Youth, Community and Education Division at De Montfort University. He has carried out research and written articles in the areas of psychology, disability, health and illness, youth studies and social policy. Over the past few years, he has focused on studies of various aspects of young people’s transitions to adulthood; youth services; disability and social policy; the challenges faced by children and young people in hospitals; and the experiences of families with parental mental illness.