The “Voice” of Children of Poverty: Candid Insights to Their Career Aspirations and Perceptions of Self-Efficacy

  • Karen Gomez
  • Floyd D. BeachumEmail author


Career development in children largely involves learning about the world of work from family members, peers, and classroom exploration in elementary school. For children of economic disadvantage, a lack of resources and restricted access to information may curtail their ability to envision career attainment. The current qualitative study explored the career aspirations of fourth- and fifth-grade students living in poverty to discern their career interests, knowledge background, understanding of educational and career pathways, and their self-efficacy for achieving their vision for the future. The data collection process involved focus groups and individual case studies. The investigators highlighted the direct verbal exchange with and among students as the most critical approach to understanding children’s aspirations. Study results indicated that the children envisioned a future of educational and occupational prosperity, but their “dreams” were often circumscribed by their limited knowledge of and exposure to employment options.


Urban schools Career readiness Poverty Leadership Elementary school Principal 



  1. Bagin, D., Gallagher, D. R., & Moore, E. H. (2008). The school and community relations. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc.Google Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. (2002). Social cognitive theory in cultural context. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 51, 269–290. Scholar
  3. Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (2001). Self-efficacy beliefs as shapers of children’s aspirations and career trajectories. Child Development, 72, 187–206. Scholar
  4. Beachum, F. D., McCray, C. R., & Gullo, G. L. (2018). “Realizing that they don’t know”: An exploratory study. In F. D. Beachum & F. E. Obiakor (Eds.), Improving educational outcomes for vulnerable children. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing.Google Scholar
  5. Belcher, J. R., Peckuonis, E. V., & DeForge, B. R. (2011). Family capital: Implications for interventions with families. Journal of Family Social Work, 14, 68–85. Scholar
  6. Bondy, E., Ross, D. D., Gallingane, C., & Hambacher, E. (2007). Creating environments of success and resilience: Culturally responsive classroom management and more. Urban Education, 42, 326–348. Scholar
  7. Bradley, R. H., Corwyn, R. F., McAdoo, H. P., & Coll, C. G. (2001). The home environments of children in the United States part 1: Variations by age, ethnicity, and poverty status. Child Development, 72, 1844–1867. Scholar
  8. Bradshaw, T. K. (2007). Theories of poverty and anti-poverty programs in community development. Journal of the Community Development Society, 38, 7–25. Scholar
  9. Bryant, M. T. (2004). The portable dissertation advisor. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  10. Cook, T. D., Church, M. B., Ajanaku, S., Shadish, W. R., Kim, J., & Cohen, R. (1996). The development of occupational aspirations and expectations among inner‐city boys. Child Development, 67, 3368–3385. Scholar
  11. Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry & research design. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  12. Curley, A. M. (2005). Theories of urban poverty and implications for public housing policy. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 32, 97–119.Google Scholar
  13. DeCuir-Gunby, J. T., Marshall, P. L., & McCullogh, A. W. (2011). Developing and using a codebook for the analysis of interview data: An example from a professional development research project. Field Methods, 23, 136–155. Scholar
  14. Evans, G. W. (2004). The environment of childhood poverty. American Psychologist, 59, 77–92. Scholar
  15. Fletcher, D. C. (2006). No curriculum left behind: The effects of the no child left behind legislation on career and technical education. Career and Technical Education Research, 31, 157–174. Scholar
  16. Flyvbjerg, B. (2011). Case study. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (pp. 301–316). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  17. Ford, B. A. (2006). Culturally responsive school-community partnerships. In J. Landsman & C. W. Lewis (Eds.), White teachers/diverse classrooms (pp. 286–300). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing LLC.Google Scholar
  18. Fullan, M. (2001). Change forces: The sequel. Philadelphia, PA: Falmer press.Google Scholar
  19. Fullan, M., & Hargreaves, A. (1996). What’s worth fighting for in your school?. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  20. Gillies, R. M., McMahon, M. L., & Carroll, J. (1998). Evaluating a career education intervention in the upper elementary school. Journal of Career Development, 24, 267–287. Scholar
  21. Glatthorn, A. A., & Joyner, R. L. (2005). Writing the winning thesis or dissertation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  22. Glesne, C. (1999). Becoming qualitative researchers. New York: Addison Wesley Longman Inc.Google Scholar
  23. Golafshani, N. (2003). Understanding reliability and validity in qualitative research. The Qualitative Report, 8, 597–607.Google Scholar
  24. Gorski, P. C. (2013). Reaching and teaching students in poverty: Strategies for erasing the opportunity gap. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  25. Guion, L. A., Diehl, D. C., & McDonald, D. (2011). Triangulation: Establishing the validity of qualitative research. Retrieved November 1, 2013 from University of Florida IFAS Extension website:
  26. Helwig, A. A. (1998). Occupational aspirations of a longitudinal sample from second to sixth grade. Journal of Career Development, 24, 247–265. Scholar
  27. Hoffman, L. R., & McDaniels, C. (1991). Career development in the elementary schools: A perspective for the 1990s. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 25, 163–171.Google Scholar
  28. Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). Yes, but how do we do it? In J. Landsman & C. W. Lewis (Eds.), White teachers/diverse classrooms (pp. 29–42). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing LLC.Google Scholar
  29. Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (2000). Contextual supports and barriers to career choice: A social cognitive analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47, 36–49. Scholar
  30. MacQueen, K. M., McLellan, E., Kay, K., & Milstein, B. (1998). Codebook development for team-based qualitative analysis. Cultural Anthropology Methods, 10, 31–36.Google Scholar
  31. Magnuson, C. S., & Starr, M. F. (2000). How early is too early to begin life career planning? The importance of the elementary school years. Journal of Career Development, 27, 89–101. Scholar
  32. McMillan, J. H. (2012). Educational research: Fundamentals for the consumer. Boston: Pearson Education Inc.Google Scholar
  33. Meier, D. (2002). The power of their ideas. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  34. Niles, S. G., & Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2013). Career development intervention in the 21st century. Boston: Pearson Education Inc.Google Scholar
  35. Parsons, F. (1909). Choosing a vocation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.Google Scholar
  36. Reeves, D. B. (2009). Leading change in your school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Publications.Google Scholar
  37. Saldaña, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  38. Schultheiss, D. E. P., Palma, T. V., & Manzi, A. J. (2005). Career development in middle childhood: A qualitative inquiry. The Career Development Quarterly, 53, 246–262. Scholar
  39. Schultheiss, D. E. P., & Stead, G. (2013). Childhood career development scale. Retrieved from
  40. Seligman, L., & Weinstock, L. (1991). The career development of 10 year olds. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 25, 172–182.Google Scholar
  41. Tracey, T. J. G. (2002). Development of interests and competency beliefs: A 1-year longitudinal team-based qualitative analysis. Cultural Anthropology Methods, 10, 31–36.Google Scholar
  42. Tracey, T. J. G., & Ward, C. C. (1998). The structure of children’s interests and competence perceptions. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45, 290–303. Scholar
  43. Trice, A. D., & Hughes, M. A. (1995). The origins of children’s career aspirations: IV. Testing hypotheses from four theories. Career Development Quarterly, 43, 307–322. Scholar
  44. Vandsburger, E., Harrigan, M., & Biggerstaff, M. (2008). In spite of all, we make it: Themes of stress and resiliency as told by women in families living in poverty. Journal of Family Social Work, 11, 17–35. Scholar
  45. Wages, M. (2015). Culture, poverty, and education: What’s happening in today’s schools?. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  46. Wallen, N. E., & Fraenkel, J. R. (2001). Educational research: A guide to the process. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.Google Scholar
  47. Watson, M., & McMahon, M. (2008). Children’s career development: Metaphorical images of theory, research, and practice. The Career Development Quarterly, 57, 75–83. Scholar
  48. Weinger, S. (1998). Children living in poverty: Their perception of career opportunities. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 79, 320–330. Scholar
  49. Weinger, S. (2000). Opportunities for career success: Views of poor and middle-class children. Children and Youth Services Review, 22, 13–35. Scholar
  50. Williams-Boyd, P. (2010). Breaking bonds, actualizing possibility: Schools as community hubs of social justice. Forum on Public Policy, 26, 1–22.Google Scholar
  51. Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  52. Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Educational Leadership ProgramLehigh UniversityBethlehemUSA

Personalised recommendations