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Career choices as Hobson’s choice? Interpretations and use of occupational descriptions among Swedish youths

Conference contribution
Authors Anna Hedenus
Published in International Labour Process Conference, 18-20 mars 2013, New Brunswick, USA
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Language en
Keywords career counseling; occupational descriptions; youths
Subject categories Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


It is an ambition for career counseling to guide individuals into educations and/or occupations that respond to their interests, regardless of their social position and background. Previous studies indicate, however, that occupational information often reproduces stereotypes and a hierarchical ordering of different occupations and of the people practicing them. From previous research we also know that people’s career choices are strongly influenced by the social characteristics associated with specific occupations. Yet, we know little about how people in general perceive and utilize the occupational descriptions used by many career counselors. In this study I analyze qualitative data from nine group interviews with 38 Swedish students who were about to graduate from high school. The purpose of the paper is to reveal how these youths, in the process of making their own career choices, view and interpret occupational descriptions – both as written text and as short documentary films. A central question concerns how the material, along with the interviewees’ preconceptions, shape the interviewees’ images of the practitioners’ gender, class, ethnicity and age. Results show that the material is apprehended through social discourses on occupations and practitioners. In contrast to the producers’ ambition to provide neutral descriptions, the interviewees thus interpret the information in ways that clearly reproduce notions on women’s and men’s jobs, low or high prestigious jobs and manual vs. mental jobs. Finally, the analysis demonstrates that an initial interest for an occupation is more crucial for the reading than the form and content of the description. For the youths in this study, the occupational descriptions primarily filled the function of letting the individual know if she or he would ‘fit’ or not. From these results, it seems that occupational descriptions play a minor role in changing socially structured patterns of career choice.

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