Family Characteristics Theory and Evidence

WomanWithTestTubes1024 Family Characteristics Theory and EvidenceReview Recommendations, Strategies, Effective Practices, and Resources

What the Literature Says*


Characteristics and engagement of family of origin have a strong influence on career choice.


Parents, a lot of influence: A Ferris State University survey found that 78 percent of 809 high school students considered their parents to be the most influential adults in their career decision-making. A survey of more than 1500 college, high school, and middle school students indicated that parental expectations to take more classes and choose a STEM career were the top perceived supports for women in STEM careers. The parents of female engineers place greater emphasis on educational achievement and on learning and have tend to have fewer stereotypes concerning gender.”

Parents, more gender-stereotyping: Parents’ gender-typed expectations continue to be fulfilled as young people begin their adult roles and make their own career choices. Gender-differentiated parent perceptions, as well as adolescents’ self-perceptions, play a large role in career decisions. In an experiment with parents and children involved in structured science teaching activities, parents’ beliefs predicted the children’s interest and self-efficacy in science: parents were more likely to believe that science was less interesting and more difficult for daughters than sons.

Mothers and fathers: A survey of 1000 female IT professionals indicated that one of the most common IT-related experiences was “support and encouragement from parents.” Family members, especially fathers, provided strong support to these female IT professionals and heavily influenced their career choice. Forty percent of the respondents had fathers who held work positions in STEM. A large-scale study of undergraduate women revealed that girls who chose an IT career discussed their decision predominately with their mothers. Mothers’ beliefs about their adolescents’ abilities in math and science are shaped by gender stereotypes and are related to the development of their adolescent children’s self-perceptions of math ability.

Ethnicity and socioeconomic status: When men choose nontraditional careers they tend to represent upward mobility in contrast to the career choices which might be expected in their family of origin. Birenbaum and Nasser (2006) demonstrated that ethnicity and gender contribute to students’ attitudes toward mathematics. Lupton (2006) suggests that working class men who have been excluded from jobs with higher status and pay, which are typically male-concentrated, may choose nontraditional careers. This exclusion may result from less academic ability or a less clear and supported career path than that for middle class men.

Significant others: The support and encouragement of significant others was an important influence in females’ persistence in pursuing a career in IT.

Mexican American men: One study found that among Mexican American adolescent men the support of parents led to increased nontraditional career self-efficacy and that the fathers’ role modeling was a direct predictor of boys’ nontraditional career choices.

*Please note that author/date callouts to references and full references can be found in the Print Form of the Root Causes document. You will be asked to complete a brief survey about your intended use of the document. The PDF will download after the survey is submitted. Thank you for your assistance!