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Keywords:

  • education expectations;
  • career planning;
  • social inequalities;
  • changing social context;
  • gender

Abstract

This article examines the interlinkages between macro- and microcontextual change, using evidence on changing education expectations among teenagers in three U.K. age cohorts born in 58, 1970, and 1989/1990 and related international studies. It discusses the multiple and interlinked factors and processes shaping educational expectations of young people, focusing on interactions with a changing sociohistorical context, institutional filters, family processes, social structures, and gender. It is argued that career choice and individual life planning have to be understood as an interactive and dialectical process linking individuals and the wider sociohistorical context. Changing opportunities set the stage for individual choice and behavior, which then aggregate to form a new historical context for subsequent cohorts. The effects of social change do not merely “trickle down”; individual and collective decisions and actions can “push up” as well, changing the social context, which in turn influences them. There are, however, variations in experience by social structure and gender, associated with the marginalization of the most disadvantaged. Thus, a key consideration in the study of individual life planning is the situated nature of decision making and the reciprocal and dynamic interactions between individual and context.