Modelling the determinants of aspirations

I’ve run my statistical analysis – a set of four binary logistic regression models – to assess the relative significance, and effect, of a set of 14 explanatory variables as predictors of young people’s occupational aspirations. My models are set up to predict two outcomes: firstly, whether a given young person voices an occupational aspiration when asked rather than replying “don’t know” (the specificity of their aspirations), and secondly, whether they have ‘high’ (professional, managerial or technical) rather than ‘low’ (non-PMT) aspirations (the level of their aspirations).

My models include the following explanatory variables:

  • Parental qualification
  • Parental occupation
  • Household income
  • Young people’s educational aspirations
  • Area-level deprivation
  • Area-level educational deprivation
  • Area type

And control for the following:

  • How often parents help with homework
  • How young person feels about their schoolwork
  • Household composition
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Region

The following findings can be derived from the output of my models:

  • The higher their parents’ level of qualification, the more likely young people are to voice a specific aspiration, and to voice a high aspiration
  • Young people whose parents have professional, managerial or technical occupations are 70% more likely to have high aspirations than those whose parents have non-PMT jobs. However, young people whose parents have never worked are the most likely to have high aspirations
  • Girls are 30% more likely than boys to voice a specific occupational aspiration, but boys are more likely to have high aspirations
  • Young people who feel happy about their schoolwork are less likely to voice a specific occupational aspiration, but among those who do, they are around twice as likely to have high aspirations as those who feel unhappy about their schoolwork
  • Young people who want to study full time when they finish school are 3 times as likely to have high aspirations as those who want to get a full time job
  • 10 and 11 year-olds are around 50% more likely to voice a specific occupational aspiration than 15 year-olds

My research is specifically concerned with the role that area-level factors play in shaping young people’s aspirations. My models allow me to assess whether area-level deprivation and area type shape young people’s aspirations, once household- and individual-level factors such as material hardship, socioeconomic status and parental involvement in schooling have been accounted for. And it seems that area is indeed an important factor in its own right.

There is little evidence of any regional variation in young people’s aspirations: of all the nine regions in England, young people from London are the most likely to have high occupational aspirations, with a statistically significant difference between their aspirations and those of young people from the South West reference category, but overall there appears to be no significant variation in young people’s aspirations between different regions. Likewise, area-level deprivation has no clear impact on aspirations – young people from more and less deprived areas are equally likely to have high aspirations in my models. Area-level educational deprivation appears to have some significance, with young people from the least educationally deprived areas less likely to voice a specific aspiration.

However, area type appears to be the most significant area-level factor shaping young people’s occupational aspirations. My models indicate that young people from inner city area types (‘Multicultural’ and ‘City Living’ in the Output Area Classification – shown in dark green on the map below) are between twice and 5 times as likely to have high aspirations than young people from ‘Constrained by Circumstances’ area types (shown in red on the map below, and often found in poorer, peripheral urban locations). City Living, Multicultural and Constrained by Circumstances area types are all often co-located with areas of deprivation, but, it seems, while outer-urban areas of deprivation are associated with lower aspirations, inner city areas of deprivation are not.

london-oac-aspirationsClick the map for a fullscreen version

The difference in aspirations between these inner-city and outer-urban area types is the largest single effect in my models, and is significant and sizeable even when the effects of all the other variables in the model, including household income, socioeconomic background and area-level deprivation, have been accounted for. Young people’s occupational aspirations do appear to be shaped by the areas they live in.

Perhaps the most immediately appealing explanation for this spatial distribution of aspirations is that highly skilled professional, managerial and technical occupations are often concentrated in the inner city, exposing young people who live there to labour market norms and opportunities that are reflected in their own occupational aspirations. Research by Andy Furlong and colleagues finds little evidence that the structure of local labour markets shapes young people’s aspirations in this way, but it seems as though this theory may need revisiting with fresh data.

Data from Understanding Society Wave 1 Youth Questionnaire. Weighted results. N=3864 for models relating to aspiration specificity, N=3266 for models relating to aspiration level. Map is based on overall proportions of young people aspiring to PMT occupations in each area type within the Output Area Classification, not data relating to individual Output Areas.

Parents’ occupations and their children’s aspirations

As well as variables describing young people and the areas they live in, my model will also include data on young people’s parents – such as their class, current job and financial circumstances. Before I could begin to consider these parental factors, however, I needed to verify a large amount of missing data. In total, of the 4899 young people in the Understanding Society Wave 1 sample, 360 have missing data on their natural/adoptive or step mothers and 1840 have missing data on their fathers. 190 mothers and 1349 fathers were no longer in the household when the Wave 1 fieldwork was conducted, while the remaining missing parents (170 mothers and 491 fathers) were part of the household but did not complete their interview – in most cases because they refused to participate. I needed to manually check this missing data, using the household enumeration dataset which records all interview outcomes, to ensure that the data wasn’t missing as a result of a bad merge on my part.

With the missing parental data verified, I can start some simple bivariate analysis of parent-level factors and young people’s aspirations, beginning by considering parents’ current job. For cases where young people’s parents are both in work, I took the dominance approach to coding parental occupation, taking the highest of the two jobs within the SOC2000 classification (with SOC Group 1 taken to be ‘highest’). If a parent wasn’t currently in work, I took their previous occupation (if available) to boost the sample. It almost slipped my attention that while young people’s occupational aspirations are coded to SOC2010, parents’ occupations are coded to SOC2000,  although the two classifications map onto each other fairly straightforwardly. This left me with an analytical sample of 4513, so there are 386 young people without any occupational data for either parent.

Collapsing parents’ occupations to the nine SOC major groups produced the crosstabulation below. While the overall association between young people’s aspirations and their parents’ occupations is weak, this association might strengthen with some recoding, and there are some interesting patterns in the data. On the whole, if young people tend to aspire to similar jobs to those their parents do (an assumption that seems reasonable but isn’t well tested in the literature), we’d expect to see green cells running from the top left to the bottom right of the table, with red cells clustering at the top right and bottom left. There are some associations which appear to confirm this assumption – particularly in Group 2 and Group 3: young people whose parents have a professional background are the most likely to aspire to professional occupations. Meanwhile, aspirations further down the occupational classification are also more prevalent among young people whose parents hold a similar occupational position.

parent_occ_yp_aspsData from 4513 respondents to the Understanding Society Wave 1 Youth Questionnaire (UKDA SN6614). Each row is colour-coded from red (for cells with the lowest proportions in that row) to green (for cells with the highest proportions in that row)

Aspirations and area type

As well as area-level deprivation, the extensive phase of my research sets out to explore the relationship between young people’s occupational aspirations and the types of area they live in, as measured by the Output Area Classification (OAC). The OAC uses data from the 2001 Census to group the 223,060 Output Areas in the UK into groups of similarity based on their Census attributes (an updated OAC based on the 2011 Census is painfully close to release but not yet available). Unlike commercial geodemographic classifications such as Acorn and Mosaic, OAC is freely available from the ONS and OAC codes for households in Understanding Society are available under Special Licence.

OAC consists of 7 super-groups, which in turn consist of 21 groups and 52 sub-groups. There’s more about the classification in this article by Daniel Vickers and Phil Rees. At this stage I’ve been exploring the association between the top level of the OAC (the 7 super-groups) and the occupational aspirations of young people from each of these super-groups, using data from the Understanding Society Wave 1 Youth Questionnaire, to see if any patterns emerge before I start statistical modelling.

The 7 OAC super-groups are defined by the Census attributes of the areas they contain – specifically, those attributes that are far more prevalent than the national average, and those that are far less prevalent than the national average. The table below summarises the characteristics of each of the 7 OAC super-groups, based on this article by Susan Williams and Andrew Botterill. I’ve also included some example areas to bring the classification to life, with the aid of this map by Oliver O’Brien at CASA:

oac-supergroups
The seven super-groups of the 2001 Output Area Classification, with their defining Census characteristics and example areas of the UK where a large concentration of Output Areas are defined by a particular super-group

A simple two-way table of the OAC super-groups and the occupational aspirations of young people from each of these seven different area types shows some interesting and statistically significant patterns (five of the nine groups in the SOC2010 occupational classification have been left out because of small cell counts):

oac-aspirations
Data from 3067 respondents to the Understanding Society Wave 1 Youth Questionnaire (UKDA SN6614 and SN6674). Each row is colour-coded from red (for cells with the lowest proportions in that row) to green (for cells with the highest proportions in that row)

The proportion of young people aspiring to Professional Occupations varies widely, from almost half of young people from areas classified as ‘City Living’ and ‘Multicultural’, to only a third of those from ‘Blue Collar Communities’ and ‘Constrained by Circumstances’ area types. The trend is reversed in the case of Skilled Trades and Caring, Leisure and Other Service Occupations – the proportions of young people aspiring to these jobs are highest in ‘Blue Collar Communities’ and ‘Constrained by Circumstances’ area types and lowest in ‘City Living’ and ‘Multicultural’ area types. Meanwhile, aspirations for Associate Professional and Technical Occupations are most common in ‘Prospering Suburbs’ and ‘Typical Traits’ area types, where 40% of young people aspire to these jobs, and least common in areas classified as ‘Countryside’, where 33% of young people aspire to these jobs.

There was very little variation in aspirations when I considered differences in area-level deprivation, so it seems, at this basic initial level at least, that when it comes to a spatial analysis of how young people’s occupational aspirations are shaped by the areas they live in, area type is more significant than area deprivation.

The importance of “don’t know”

I’m in the early stages of analysing data from the Youth Questionnaire of Understanding Society to explore the role of area in shaping young people’s occupational aspirations. Unlike some waves of the British Household Panel Survey which preceded it, Understanding Society has fairly limited data on young people’s occupational aspirations. Whereas 12 of the 18 waves of the BHPS included a question on the Youth Questionnaire about the jobs that young people want to do when they left full time education, this is only the case for the first of the two existing waves of Understanding Society. Likewise, whereas 8 waves of the BHPS included questions about why young people aspired to particular jobs, Understanding Society lacks this data. Nonetheless, Understanding Society benefits from a much larger sample size (around four times more respondents to the Youth Questionnaire than in the BHPS), its data is more recent, as is also linkable to the Output Area Classification, which allows me to look at whether, and how, aspirations vary between different types of area.

It being early days, I’m currently just looking at the properties of my outcome variable and a selection of independent variables that I’ll be including in my model. A quick recode to map aspirations onto the 9 categories in the SOC2010 occupational classification, followed by the most basic of descriptive statistics, threw up a really interesting consideration: the importance of “don’t know”:

usoc-aspirations-soc2010Data from 4899 responses to the Understanding Society Wave 1 Youth Questionnaire (UKDA SN 6614)

It’s easy to dismiss “don’t know” as a response category of little interest in analysis. In the context of my research, however, young people who don’t know what job they want to do when they finish full time education are of very real interest, quite apart from the fact that they account for over 15% of the sample here. The intensive phase of my research identified three broad dimensions to the way in which young people understand and talk about their occupational aspirations: materiality, specificity, and agency. The second of these dimensions distinguishes between young people who have a clear idea of a job (or a range of specific jobs) they’d like to do, and those who either don’t know what they want to do or have an abstract idea of the sorts of work they’d like to be involved in. I found, among the young people I interviewed, that those with higher educational attainment tended to have less specific ideas, or no idea, of the jobs they wanted to do (and would therefore probably be coded as “don’t know”), while those with lower educational attainment tended to have more specific aspirations.

So it seems that although the data in Understanding Society is limited in what it can tell us about how young people think about their aspirations, distinguishing between those who do know and those who don’t know what job they’d like to do when they finish full time education could go some way towards identifying how area shapes at least one element – specificity – of young people’s conceptions of their aspirations. For me, this was a first-hand lesson in the importance of interpreting “don’t know” in survey analysis.

24th May 2013

In preparation for the extensive (quantitative) phase of my research, I’ve put together a conceptual model of the determinants of young people’s occupational aspirations (at this stage, it’s essentially just a literature review). Although my research is focussed on the role of area effects, I need to know which other factors to include in my statistical model when I come to examine the BHPS/Understanding Society data. There are lots of candidates – from family background and social networks to academic ability and involvement in extracurricular activities. Even when it comes to the question of how area-based factors shape occupational aspirations, there are myriad ways of considering these, and indeed there are some contradictory findings in the literature – about the importance of deprivation, and local labour markets, for instance – which are due in part to the fact that studies consider these factors in different ways. Often these disparities are due to differences in research design, with large scale quantitative studies (which define differences between areas using metrics like the IMD) tending to find less evidence for area effects on aspirations than more localised case studies (which have the capacity to examine class-based norms, social networks and perceptions of place in deprived settings, for instance).

So my operationalisation of ‘area’ in the data needs to be as responsive to these nuances in the literature as possible. For instance, if those studies that identify a significant role for area-level deprivation focus on a particular aspect of deprivation, I may want to use specific domain scores from the IMD in my model, rather than overall scores, to capture the aspects of deprivation that are actually significant in relation to aspirations.

19th April 2013

Taking the most recent wave of the BHPS Youth Questionnaire in which questions on conceptions of aspirations were asked – Wave Q (2007) – I’ve filtered the data to include only those respondents aged 14, 15 or 16 at the time of the fieldwork, in order to match the age range sampled in the intensive phase of my research. Using the geocodes I obtained through a Special Licence, I’ve linked each respondent to an LSOA and its corresponding Index of Multiple Deprivation Score, using the IMD from 2007. Given that the IMD only covers individuals in England, I was left with 189 young people aged 14, 15 or 16 with a deprivation score for their area.

I’ve started some basic analysis of how conceptions of aspirations vary between areas with different levels of deprivation. Given that the most significant finding from the intensive phase of my research was the prevalence of the material conception of aspirations among those young people with the dysfunctional conception of their area (which made the most explicit reference to its deprivation), I wanted to start my exploration of the BHPS data by examining the association between deprivation and aspirational materiality.

The relevant variable for representing materiality is QYPJBQD, which asks young people to  assess the importance of a high income when it comes to choosing a job. Responses to this question are coded to a 4-category scale, from 1 ‘very important’ to 4 ‘unimportant’. To run a basic crosstabulation with IMD score I needed to recode the IMD scores in the data from a continuous to a categorical variable. A histogram of IMD scores revealed a distribution with a long positive skew and four fairly clear groupings, so I recoded IMD scores into a 4-category variable based on scores of 0-12 (the least deprived areas in the data), 13-24, 25-44 and 48-80 (the most deprived areas in the data).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, no young people responded that a high income was ‘unimportant’ (QYPJBQD=4), and a very small handful responded ‘not important’ (QYPJBQD=3), so pretty much all the variation in the materiality of young people’s conceptions of their aspirations is captured by QYPJBQD=1 ‘very important’ or 2 ‘important’. Running a crosstabulation with IMD score, there did seem to be a noticeable difference in the materiality of young people’s conceptions of their aspirations, with young people in more deprived areas having a more material conception of their aspirations:

materiality-deprivation

I’ll need to do some more sophisticated analysis now – this is still exploratory stuff, but the data seems to be amenable to the sorts of questions I want to ask, which is encouraging.

8th April 2013

Originally I’d intended to use the extensive phase of the research, which uses data from the BHPS and Understanding Society Youth Questionnaires, to explore how young people’s occupational aspirations (the jobs they say they want to do in the future) are shaped by spatial characteristics of their area such as Index of Multiple Deprivation score and Output Area Classification type. As I said in my last post, however, I’ve realised that as well as the role of space I may be able to explore place – or at least, some crude proxies for place – in the extensive phase, using survey items which appeal to the opinions and understanding young people have of their local area. I’ve also now realised that I can use the extensive phase of the research to explore the relationship between space (and place) and young people’s conceptions of their aspirations, as well as just the content of their aspirations.

The BHPS Youth Questionnaire asks young people what job they’d like to do when they leave school or finish their full-time education (apart from Waves 1-3 and Waves 9-11). This deals with the content of young people’s aspirations. Some waves also ask young people which aspects of a job they find important, or why it is that they aspire to do a particular job. This deals with their conception of their aspirations. Different waves handle young people’s conceptions of their aspirations in different ways, with different combinations of survey items. Waves 1-3, 9-11, 14-16 and 18 do not contain any survey items addressing conceptions of aspirations. Wave 4 asks young people to give their opinion of the importance of five aspects of a job: security; hours; brain involvement; pay, and worthwhileness. A further question then asks them to state which of these qualities is most important of all. Waves 5 and 6 ask the same questions but also ask young people to explain why they aspire to a particular job. Waves 7 and 8 ask only the latter.

Waves 12, 13 and 17 ask young people to give their opinion of the importance of six aspects of a job, with no further questions. For each item, the respondent is asked to state whether it is ‘very important’, ‘important’, ‘not important’, or ‘unimportant’. Two of the six aspects of a job identify broadly with the material conception of aspirations I identified in the intensive phase of my research: job security, and high income. The remaining four aspects of a job identify broadly with the immaterial conception of aspirations: interesting; helping others; time for leisure, and worthwhile.

Out of interest I wanted to see the relative importance of material and immaterial factors  in influencing young people’s aspirations in the BHPS data. Taking the most recent wave with items addressing conceptions, Wave 17, filtering to include only those aged 15 and 16 at the time of the fieldwork, I calculated a net score for each job element by subtracting the percentage of young people responding ‘not important’ or ‘unimportant’ from the percentage of young people responding ‘very important’ or ‘important’. It’s a crude way of assessing the relative importance of the material (red) and immaterial (blue) conceptions of aspirations in the BHPS data on aggregate, but it gives the following results:

bhps16conceptions
Source: BHPS Youth Questionnaire Wave 17 (2007)

Having assessed the way in which the BHPS data covers the content and conceptions of young people’s aspirations, I need to look into if, and how, the data deals with place.

27th March 2013

Now that I’ve completed the intensive phase of the research I’m reflecting on what the findings tell me, how they address my research questions, and what my plans are for the next (extensive) phase of the research.

As I described on 6th February, my research design has two parts: an intensive phase which explores the relationship between place and conceptions of aspirations (A), and an extensive phase which explores the relationship between space and content of aspirations (B). Place and space are not independent: places are the conceptions that individuals have of a particular space, and these conceptions of space will be shaped by a potentially infinite range of factors such as the individual’s family background, their social class, their identity, their social capital and so on (C). In exploring the association between place and aspirations, then, it’s impossible to disregard the significance of these factors because they are inextricably bound up in an individual’s sense of place. These same factors will also be implicated in shaping a person’s aspirations directly, via a range of additional mechanisms that may have nothing to do with place (D) – an individual’s aspirations may be shaped by the socialising influence of family background or the cultural and material imperatives of social class, for instance.

phd-framework-1

As a result, if my findings tell me that place does appear to shape aspirations (as indeed they do), it’s certain that factors such as family background, social class, identity and social capital will be playing a role here, in two senses. Firstly, these factors are implicated in the process by which a person creates a sense of ‘place’ from a particular ‘space’ (C). Secondly, these same factors will shape aspirations directly, through a range of mechanisms independent from place (D). My findings from the intensive phase suggest that place does indeed seem to shape aspirations. Firstly, the interviews provide a number of individual, case-specific instances of aspirations being shaped by place. Secondly, at the aggregate level there is an association between the dysfunctional conception of Wythenshawe and the material conception of aspirations (see March 25th). So the question arises: does this association with place suggest that aspirations are being shaped by place, or by other factors (either via place (C), or  via other mechanisms (D))?

My sample for the intensive phase (the interviews I conducted) was drawn from three groups, designed to capture young people with high, average and low predicted attainment at GCSE. The aim here was to attempt, in a simplistic way, to explore the effect of the additional factors that might shape a young person’s aspirations as well as their conception of the area they live in – their family background, their social class, their identity, social capital and so on. Predicted attainment is a good indicator of differences in these factors, and it was easy to sample the young people based on their predicted attainment.

This stratification by predicted attainment turned out to be significant: the dysfunctional conception of Wythenshawe (which was strongly associated with the material conception of aspirations) was held exclusively by young people with low predicted attainment. As a result, there is a strong association between low predicted attainment and the material conception of aspirations. The question therefore arises: is it place (a particular – in this case dysfunctional – conception of Wythenshawe) that is producing the material conception of aspirations, or is it predicted attainment, and the multitude of additional factors it stands as an indicator of (whether these factors are functioning via C or D)?

In my findings I argue that there is both a sensible theoretical justification, and substantive evidence from the interviews, for inferring that the material conception of aspirations is shaped by place – where ‘place’ is the dysfunctional conception of Wythenshawe these young people have. Particular features of ‘place’ – namely, material hardship, occupational insecurity and benefit dependency – are clearly linked to particular features of the way young people talk about their aspirations – namely, a focus on decent remuneration and job security. As I say above, the dysfunctional conception of Wythenshawe, like any form of ‘place’, is a product of Wythenshawe’s spatial characteristics and the particular situation of the individual young people interviewed (via C). The factors captured by predicted attainment are almost certainly at play somewhere underneath the association between the low attainment group, their dysfunctional conception of Wythenshawe and the material conception of their aspirations. I can acknowledge the role of these factors (indeed, I couldn’t do otherwise), but I’m faced with a decision as to whether to explicitly consider their individual significance on the young people’s conceptions of their aspirations.

I could, for instance, broaden the scope of the extensive phase of the research to consider the effect of factors such as family background and social class on aspirations, as a way of unpacking their contribution to the association between place and aspirations. This would be possible with BHPS and Understand Society data. However, I’m not keen to expand on the extensive phase in this way. Instead, I intend to take ‘place’ at face value, whilst acknowledging the various factors that produce it. By face value, I mean understanding place (the way in which the young people I spoke to understand and talk about Wythenshawe) without enquiring as to the specific importance of the various factors that go into shaping that notion of place. The factors in the middle of the triangle are important constituents of any full account of place and any outcomes that place may shape (such as aspirations), but I don’t have time to consider their specific contribution to place and aspirations. Extending the extensive phase of the research to consider these additional factors would dilute the focus of the extensive away from a deliberately specific notion of space (an area’s Index of Multiple Deprivation Score and its Output Area Classification) which I adopt for its relevance to the existing literature and current government policy. I’m limited by time and resources, I set out to explore a particular notion of place and a particular notion of space, and I won’t expand my research design at this stage. I will, however, need to argue in clear terms that I acknowledge the significance of the factors in the middle of the triangle in shaping young people’s aspirations, and that the association I’ve discovered between place and aspirations – specifically, the dysfunctional conception of Wythenshawe and the material conception of aspirations – will ultimately have something to do with these factors.

On a separate note, it’s occurred to me that the extensive phase of the research could consider the role of place as well as space in shaping aspirations. For instance, survey items on individuals’ views of their local area could be taken as (very simple) proxies for ‘place’ (their conception of the area they live in). I need to look at their BHPS and Understanding Society datasets to see if there are relevant variables, but this could provide a nice complement to the intensive phase.

For now, I have BHPS data geocoded to LLSOA which I can use to explore the relationship between area-level deprivation and aspirations, and Understanding Society data coded to the Output Area Classification which I can use to explore the relationship between area type and aspirations.

25th March 2013

New words: 14100
Total words:
61565

I now have a final draft of the intensive phase of the research, and this is a basic summary of my findings.

Conceptions of Wythenshawe
There are four conceptions of Wythenshawe in the data: a dysfunctional conception; a territorial conception; a material conception and a provisional conception. These four conceptions of Wythenshawe provide a typology of the different ways in which the young people I interviewed understand and talk about their local area – a typology of ‘place’.

Conceptions of aspirations
There are a total of seven conceptions of aspirations in the data, all of which are defined in terms of their specific alignment with a common thematic framework which spans three dimensions: materiality; specificity, and agency. Some of the conceptions capture multiple young people’s understandings of their aspirations, while others are unique in the data. Here’s how the young people’s conceptions of their aspirations populate this three-dimensional thematic space:

conceptions-of-aspirations

How aspirations are shaped by place
Taking conceptions of Wythenshawe as indicators of ‘place’ (young people’s interpretations and understandings of the space they live in), the data suggests a number of associations between place and aspirations. Firstly, at the aggregate level, there is an association between the dysfunctional conception of Wythenshawe and the material conception of aspirations, which is clear in the summary matrix below:

conceptions-matrix

Given this apparent association between the dysfunctional conception of Wythenshawe and the material conception of aspirations, a substantive causal link from place→aspirations can be inferred from the interviews. It seems that a view of Wythenshawe as somewhere defined by material hardship, unemployment and widespread benefit dependency feeds into a conception of aspirations that focuses on job security and a decent level of remuneration.

Secondly, at the individual level, a number of other links between place and aspirations become clear: for instance, one young person links their desire to become a property developer to their view of the area as run-down; another describes how their desire to pursue a career in art has been shaped by the garden city’s green spaces and natural forms; another explains how the generality of their aspirations is the result of limited local job opportunities.

In short, the data suggest a number of ways in which aspirations are shaped by place.

There is one final finding from the intensive phase which I need to give some thought to. My sample consisted of three groups of young people, distinguished by their predicted GCSE attainment, and the coloured matrix above suggests that predicted attainment shapes conceptions of aspirations (whether or not this is via place): it seems as though as we move from young people with low predicted attainment to young people with high predicted attainment, aspirations become less material, specific and structured. Young people with low predicted attainment tend to talk about specific occupations, focus on job security and pay, and feel the influence of structural forces in shaping their aspirations. In comparison, young people with high predicted attainment tend to talk about a range of occupational aspirations or have no specific aspirations at all, focus on the content and enjoyment of work, and feel the process of forming their aspirations as having been primarily under their own control.

As I move on to begin the extensive phase of the research, using data from the Youth Questionnaire of the BHPS/Understanding Society, I need to think about whether, and how, I can build these findings from the intensive phase into my design for the extensive phase.

12th February 2013

Rather than produce a typology of conceptions of aspirations, as I did with conceptions of Wythenshawe, I’ve decided I will outline each young person’s individual conception of their aspirations. This is for two reasons:

  1. My thesis is ultimately about aspirations, and so I want my discussion of the ways in which young people talk about their aspirations to be as detailed and rich as possible; I want to minimise data reduction in this discussion by adopting more of a case study approach than a typology approach. It will still be phenomenographic analysis as I’m still in the business of identifying conceptions; I just won’t be aiming to categorise these conceptions into a typology.
  2. The way in which young people understand and speak about their aspirations in my interview data is less easy to map onto a typology; having coded and sifted through my interviews, a clear typology of conceptions of aspirations has not ’emerged’ in the same way as with conceptions of Wythenshawe.

Although I will not produce a typology of conceptions of aspirations, I will, nonetheless, describe each individual case with reference to a set number of overarching themes which feature in all of the interviews. So a common set of themes will be used to describe the way in which each young person talks about their aspirations, but the way in which these themes are addressed in each interview will be explored open-endedly rather than being mapped onto a typology. In order to describe the conception of aspirations present in each interview, I will consider:

  1. The content of the aspiration: what job/s do they want to do in the future?
  2. Are their aspirations based on material or immaterial considerations?
  3. Do they talk about their aspirations in specific or general terms?
  4. How do they talk about the role of structure and agency in forming their aspirations?

Consideration of themes 2, 3 and 4 will form the basis of the phenomenographic analysis.