High school students and adults differ regarding personality trait perceptions of business occupation members.

AuthorCory, Suzanne N.

    Stereotypes are culturally transmitted and ingrained in our society, often used for filtering, organizing, and remembering information (Macrae, Milne and Bodenhausen, 1994) and generated by a variety of sources. Individuals find them useful because they lead us to have expectations about members of a group, which allows us to adapt our behavior when we encounter a member of it simply because group members are expected to share common characteristics (Lee, Sandfield and Dhaliwal, 2007). Stereotypes exist in many forms, including ethnic, gender, age, racial and occupational. Occupational stereotypes have been found in several prior studies (McLean and Kalin, 1994; Coate, Mitschow and Schinski, 2003) and suggestions have been made that individuals may become interested in joining occupations where a stereotypical member demonstrates personality traits they find attractive (Powell and Kido, 1994). Conversely, individuals may not be interested in joining occupations where members demonstrate personality traits they find unattractive.

    Although Schneider (2004) states that stereotypes based on occupations are usually "inoffensive" (p. 522), they may nonetheless impact the recruitment of qualified individuals to certain occupations (Cory, 1992). Occupational stereotypes were identified as early as 1928, when Spranger stated " ... no power in adult life moulds (sic) a man so strongly as his vocation. The whole mentality of the agriculturist is entirely different from that of the stock raiser; the artisan differs from the clerk and the fisherman from the miner. Nature seems to stamp the soul with the special conditions under which he (man) wrests his livelihood from her" (cited in Guilford, 1967, p. 57). In fact, one source of information shown to influence individuals to enter a particular occupation is their preconceptions about members of that occupation, in addition to other factors (Coate, Mitschow and Schinski, 2003). These preconceptions may be determined by the perceptions of personality traits (e.g., the stereotype) corresponding to members of that occupation. Additionally, as Decker (1986) points out, one of the first pieces of information acquired about a new acquaintance is often that person's occupation, which may affect one's first impressions of that individual.

    Although differences between age groups in determination of occupational prestige scores have been investigated (Parker and Cunningham, 1995), little has been done to determine whether perceptions of personality traits contributing toward a stereotype differ between age groups. Given that some of the many sources students may consult prior to choosing a college major consist of parents, grandparents, older siblings, guidance counselors and other adults, these individuals' perceptions of the personality traits of members of an occupation may have an impact on the student's choice of college major and thus his or her future career choices. Prior research has found that the number of high school counselors and their interactions with students serve as a major source of information for college-bound students, especially those from a lower socioeconomic background (Perna, Rowan-Kenyon, Thomas and Bell, 2008; Bryan, Moore-Thomas, Day-Vines and Holcomb-McCoy, 2011). Additionally, research has addressed the difficulties that many college students face when choosing a career and high education counselors' impact on their final decision (Campagna and Curtis, 2007; Gati and Amir, 2010). Thus, both high school and college counselors may impact the decisions students make to choose a particular major, and even whether to attend college.

    Therefore, information about any differences in perceptions of personality traits (e.g., occupational stereotypes) between age groups could be useful in advising students about possible future careers. The purpose of this study is to determine whether differences in perceptions of personality traits of members of four different business occupations exist between high school students and adults. Additionally, as discussed above, given that students may be getting career suggestions from older adults, any difference or similarity in perceptions of personality traits contributing toward occupational stereotypes between the high school students and older adults is of interest.


    A semantic differential instrument, similar to that used by Cory, Mullen and Reeves (2010) was designed to gather information about perceptions of the personality traits of members of four occupations: (1) accountants, (2) bankers, (3) marketing managers and (4) stockbrokers. These occupations were selected based on their similarity to those used in prior research (see, for example, Cory, Kerr and Todd, 2007 and Cory, Mullen and Reeves, 2010). These four occupations all provide services as opposed to goods. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted growth in 15 of the 16 service-providing industries for the ten-year period 2008 to 2018 (Bureau of Labor Statistics), which is where most individuals entering the job market at that time will seek employment. Therefore, it was felt that study participants should be familiar with these occupations.

    The terms for the semantic differential were obtained from the Sixteen Personality Factor (16 PF) Questionnaire (Cattell, Cattell and Cattell, 1993) which has been used extensively since the mid-1940s to determine individual personality traits (e.g., Garcia- Sedeno, Navarro and Menacho, 2009). In the current study, rather than using the 16 PF Questionnaire to determine participants' actual personality traits, the terms used by the 16 PF to describe one's personality were used in a semantic differential, which was presented to study participants. Results were compiled to determine participants' perceptions of personality traits for members of each of the four occupations in this study. This approach has been used successfully in prior research studies (Cory, Reeves and Beer, 2008).

    Participants were members of one of two groups. High school seniors attending one of four schools located in the Southwestern U.S. represent students and individuals called as prospective jurors represent adults in the study. The survey instrument was carefully explained to participants and they were given an opportunity to ask questions prior to completing the questionnaire. A total of 500 usable responses was received, of which 365 (73%) were completed by high school students and 135 (27%) were completed by prospective jurors. A total of 376 surveys were distributed to and completed by high school seniors, but 11 were not usable, for a response rate of 97%. Although the student sample was restricted to high school seniors, and not random, each school was selected from a different part of the city, based on demographics, and should represent a good cross section of individuals in their last year of high school. Further, according to Detert, Trevino and Swetizer (2008, p. 379), few high school students "have been fully socialized into the world of work in ways that could be considered major influences on their attitudes ..." and thus should represent the viewpoints of individuals with limited experience in the workplace or exposure to occupations. The prospective jurors were selected randomly by the court which called them and those who were not selected to serve on a jury were asked

    to complete the questionnaire at the end of the day. The response rate for jurors was not readily determinable because only individuals not selected to serve on a jury were asked to complete the survey. However, 135 responses from a random sample should be large enough to adequately represent the views of adults. Given the random nature of their selection for...

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