The process of occupational decision making: Patterns during the transition to adulthood

Jeylan T. Mortimer, Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck, Mikki Holmes, Michael J. Shanahan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


In this paper, we consider how recent social changes in the United States may be affecting vocational decision making. While adolescents often maintain high educational and occupational aspirations, the transition from school is characterized by few institutional supports, the prolongation of education, and a multitude of options with respect to the combination of school, work, and family. In such a context, what themes characterize decision making about schooling and occupational careers? We draw on qualitative interviews collected as part of the Youth Development Study (n = 1000), a longitudinal study of work through adolescence and early adulthood. Multiple themes were identified including unfulfilled expectations, the postponement of decisions, turning points that crystallized decisions, and resources and obstacles including, among others, family, work, school counseling, and teachers. These themes characterize contemporary occupational decision making and thus would be appropriate focal points for future research. They also suggest that social policies may need to be modified to facilitate the young people's quest for vocational identity and work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-465
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Vocational Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Portions of this paper were presented at the 7th Biennial Conference of the Association for Research on Adolescence. Jena, Germany, May 31–June 4, 2000. This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (“Work Experience and Mental Health: A Panel Study of Youth”; MH42843) and from the College of Liberal Arts and the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.


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