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.

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