Abstract: Career, Education, and Family Planning: The Central Role of Financial Aspiration to Mexican American Adolescents' Goals (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Career, Education, and Family Planning: The Central Role of Financial Aspiration to Mexican American Adolescents' Goals

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Valley of the Sun D, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Qihao Zhan, MSW, Graduate Researcher, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Heidi Adams Rueda, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Lela Williams, PhD, Associate Professor, Arizona State University, Tucson, AZ
Deaven Rodriguez, LMSW, Program Coordinator, University of Texas at San Antonio, TX
Background: Adolescence is a critical developmental period for youth to explore their identity and future aspirations. Research with Mexican American (MA) youth has highlighted the importance of positive aspirations and a sense of empowerment to reach one’s goals. Further research has found that living in poverty, which is more likely among MA youth as opposed to White, may contribute to an emphasis on survival (e.g. providing for a family) in contrast to attaining financial gain. In this study, we videotaped dyadic interactions among Mexican American adolescent couples to understand youth’s goals and plans for the future.

Methods: Thirty-four MA hetero-dating couples aged 15-17 years (M dating length = 11.71 months) from an urban city in a Southwest border state completed an online survey and a video-taped interaction task in which we asked couples to “talk about your goals” for 10 minutes (5 minutes each). One-third of couples were pregnant or parenting. Interactions were inductively coded for themes. As we were sensitized to the prominence of financial aspiration (FA), we created three FA levels, operationalized as modest, ambivalent, and high. We then applied this deductive template to further explore how youth’s additional goals were (mis)aligned with their FA. Reflexivity, researcher triangulation, and an audit trail enhanced analytical rigor.

Results: High FA individuals (16%) wanted to “be rich”; those with modest FA (32%) desired to meet basic needs and “not struggle”; youth with ambivalent (52%) FA connected goals with personal interests. Youth’s career choices aligned with their level of FA; most youth with high FA desired leadership positions, including within medical, business and fashion industries compared to more modest and ambivalent FA youth who chose service-oriented career options (e.g., construction work). Sex differences emerged in their career options; the most common career choices among females were in the medical field whereas males desired construction and mechanical work. However, educational planning misaligned with career goals: the majority of modest and ambivalent FA youth discussed attending higher education compared to half of high FA youth. Very few high and ambivalent FA youth (0%; 3% respectively) compared to 18% of modest FA youth discussed seeking scholarships. The percentage of individuals who discussed marriage goals and the desire to parent was similar across groups (40%). Career and educational goals were contextualized by family values and planning.

Conclusion: Videotaped interactions with a dating partner provided a natural setting for discussion of financial aspirations, career choices, and forthcoming plans. Adolescents who desired to “not struggle” had clearer paths to goal-success compared to adolescents who desired “to be rich”. Although youth who had higher financial aspirations described parallel career choices, youth with more modest financial goals were more apt to describe educational goals. Understanding the centrality of financial aspirations and youth’s plans to achieve their goals is important to building a more equitable society. To eliminate barriers and build solutions, we recommend policies that require and fund school-based programming inclusive of the opportunity for youth to connect their financial goals to their chosen careers, educational goals, and family planning.