6
Youth Values, Attitudes, Perceptions, and Influencers

Youth analysts are increasingly speaking of a new phase in the life course between adolescence and adulthood, an elongated phase of semiautonomy, variously called “postadolescence,” “youth,” or “emerging adulthood” (Arnett, 2000). During this time, young people are relatively free from adult responsibilities and able to explore diverse career and life options. There is evidence that “emerging adults” in their 20s feel neither like adults nor like adolescents; instead, they consider themselves in some ways like each. At the same time, given the wide variety of perceived and actual options available to them, the transition to adulthood has become increasingly “destructured” and “individualized” (Shanahan, 2000). Youth may begin to make commitments to work and to significant others, but these are more tentative than they will be later. Jobs are more likely to be part-time than at older ages, particularly while higher education, a priority for a growing number of youth, is pursued. There is increasing employment among young people in jobs limited by contract, denoted as contingent or temporary. Such jobs are often obtained through temporary job service agencies. Young people are also increasingly cohabiting prior to marriage or as an alternative to marriage.

This extended period of youth or postadolescence is filled with experimentation, suggesting that linking career preparation to military service might be attractive to a wider age range of youth than among traditionally targeted 17–18-year-olds who are just leaving high school (especially extending to youth in their early and mid-20s). But what about their values of citizenship and patriotism? Are young Americans motivated to serve? Are their parents and counselors supportive? Is there a



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment 6 Youth Values, Attitudes, Perceptions, and Influencers Youth analysts are increasingly speaking of a new phase in the life course between adolescence and adulthood, an elongated phase of semiautonomy, variously called “postadolescence,” “youth,” or “emerging adulthood” (Arnett, 2000). During this time, young people are relatively free from adult responsibilities and able to explore diverse career and life options. There is evidence that “emerging adults” in their 20s feel neither like adults nor like adolescents; instead, they consider themselves in some ways like each. At the same time, given the wide variety of perceived and actual options available to them, the transition to adulthood has become increasingly “destructured” and “individualized” (Shanahan, 2000). Youth may begin to make commitments to work and to significant others, but these are more tentative than they will be later. Jobs are more likely to be part-time than at older ages, particularly while higher education, a priority for a growing number of youth, is pursued. There is increasing employment among young people in jobs limited by contract, denoted as contingent or temporary. Such jobs are often obtained through temporary job service agencies. Young people are also increasingly cohabiting prior to marriage or as an alternative to marriage. This extended period of youth or postadolescence is filled with experimentation, suggesting that linking career preparation to military service might be attractive to a wider age range of youth than among traditionally targeted 17–18-year-olds who are just leaving high school (especially extending to youth in their early and mid-20s). But what about their values of citizenship and patriotism? Are young Americans motivated to serve? Are their parents and counselors supportive? Is there a

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment link between volunteering in the community and a desire to serve in the military? This chapter is divided into two sections: the first deals with youth values and the second focuses on the individuals and events that influence or reinforce youth values. Our analysis of youth values includes (1) whether and how values have changed over time, (2) what trends can be anticipated in the future, and (3) changes in youth views of the military. Some primary questions regarding trends in youth values are What are the important life goals for young people? How do youth think about and act on values related to citizenship, civic participation, and patriotism? What are their educational goals beyond high school? What are considered the most important or desirable characteristics of a job? How do youth feel about work settings? What do youth believe about military policy and missions and about the military as a place to work? The data we draw on to address these questions come from three large national survey databases supplemented by a locally based longitudinal study, several cross-sectional studies, and small observational studies as available.1 The three national databases are Monitoring the Future, a nationwide study of youth attitudes and behaviors covering drug use plus a wide range of other subjects, conducted annually by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan (Bachman et al., 2001b; Johnston et al., 2001; see also <http://www.monitoringthefuture.org>). In-school questionnaire surveys of high school seniors have been conducted each year since 1975; similar surveys of 8th and 10th grade students have been conducted since 1991. The survey sample sizes range from approximately 14,000 to 19,000. The study includes follow-up surveys of smaller subsamples of graduates from all classes from 1976 onward. Youth Attitude Tracking Study, a nationwide survey of youth attitudes about various aspects of military service, their propensity to enlist, and the role of those who influence youth attitudes and behavior, conducted by the Department of Defense from 1975 through 1999. In the 1   The committee is aware that responses to questions designed to elicit attitudinal responses are subject to varying interpretations by respondents and, therefore, must be treated accordingly. This is one of the reasons why our analysis focuses on changes over time rather than the absolute value of the response.

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment latest survey, approximately 10,000 telephone interviews were conducted. The age range of participants was 16–24. The Alfred P. Sloan Study, a nationwide longitudinal study of students conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago, from 1992 to 1997. The goal was to gain a holistic picture of adolescents’ experiences with the social environments of their schools, families, and peer groups. The methodology included survey, telephone interviews, experience sampling, sociometric reports, and supplemental interviews with those who might influence youth (Schneider and Stevenson, 1999). The sampling was designed to ensure diversity, not to provide population representativeness. Students were drawn from grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. The total sample was 1,211 students. The locally based study is the Youth Development Study, conducted at the Life Course Center, University of Minnesota (Mortimer and Finch, 1996). The main purpose of this study is to address the consequences of work experience for youth development, mental health, achievement during high school, and the transition to adulthood. One thousand 9th graders were randomly selected in 1987 from the St. Paul, Minnesota, public school district; these youth have been surveyed annually through 2000, from the ages of 14–15 to 27. Selected subsamples of the respondents have been interviewed to develop a better understanding of the subjective transition to adulthood. The second section of the chapter reviews the scientific literature and data characterizing youth influencers, drawing on (1) the literatures of socialization, attitude formation and change, and youth development as they inform decisions about early career development and (2) information regarding the role of influencers to the extent that it informs early career decisions. The focus of our analysis is on the aspects of the career decision-making process that bear most directly on youth propensity to enlist in the military. TRENDS IN YOUTH VALUES Although a primary source of data for this section is the Monitoring the Future survey, we rely more particularly on a report examining these data concerning high school seniors’ and young adults’ views about work and military service (Bachman et al., 2000a). That report covers trends from 1976 through 1998. Where useful, certain findings have been updated through 2001. The dominant finding from that report was stability rather than change over time in youth views about work and about military service, although there were also important changes that are examined in the following sections. The topics presented include: (1) important

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment goals in life, (2) citizenship, civic participation, and volunteerism, (3) education and work, and (4) views of the military. Important Goals in Life What are the life goals of youth, how have they changed over time, and what are the implications for military enlistment? Table 6-1 shows percentages of high school seniors in the Monitoring the Future (MTF) surveys who rated as “extremely important” each of five goals in life (these five were selected from a longer list as being potentially relevant to military service decisions). The table shows young men and women separately and compares recent graduating classes (1994–1998) with classes nearly two decades earlier (1976–1980). Among young men, the percentages shifted only modestly over two decades, and the rank ordering was unchanged. Among young women, the shifts in percentages were small also, and the rank orderings showed only one trivial change (fourth and fifth places reversed). There were, on the other hand, some consistent differences between the male and female ratings, as noted below. Among the items listed in the table, the highest importance ratings by far were assigned to “finding purpose and meaning in my life.” Just over half of the males in each time period rated it as extremely important, and the proportions of females were even higher. This item showed little correlation with military propensity during the last quarter of the 20th century, and from this we might infer that military service during that period was not seen as superior or inferior to other pursuits as a means for finding purpose and meaning in life. But the fact that most young adults still rate this as extremely important suggests that if military service in future years can provide such opportunities—and be perceived as doing so—the appeal is likely to be strong. “Having lots of money” grew in importance among young men and young women between the classes of 1976–1980 and the classes of 1994– 1998, as can be seen in the table. The percentage of young people in the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) surveys who, two years after high school, thought having lots of money was very important also increased from 1974 to 1994 from slightly over 10 percent to approximately 35 percent (Larson presentation, 4th Committee Meeting—Irvine, December 2000). According to data from the MTF surveys, “making a contribution to society” was somewhat less likely than money to be rated as extremely important by young men, whereas among young women it was a bit more likely. So are today’s youth altruistic? Or materialistic? And have young people been shifting in one direction or the other? The data show only modest changes over time, and the gender differences also remain

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment TABLE 6-1 Importance Placed on Various Life Goals: Comparison of Rank Orders How important is each of the following to you in your life? Rank % Extremely Important Males 1976–1980 Males 1994–1998 Males Change 1 Finding purpose and meaning in my life 54.9 51.9 –3.00 2 Having lots of money 23.3 33.4 10.04 3 Making a contribution to society 18.0 21.3 3.24 4 Getting away from this area of the country 11.7 14.4 2.65 5 Living close to parents and relatives 8.2 13.0 4.84 Rank % Extremely Important Females 1976–1980 Females 1994–1998 Females Change 1 Finding purpose and meaning in my life 72.2 64.8 –7.40 2 Making a contribution to society 17.6 23.7 6.09 3 Having lots of money 12.7 20.2 7.46 4 Living close to parents and relatives 9.5 16.1 6.62 5 Getting away from this area of the country 11.9 14.0 2.15 SOURCE: Data from Monitoring the Future surveys. NOTE: Rankings were assigned based on respondent ratings from the class years 1994 to 1998. Significance tests were calculated using t tests with pooled variance estimates based on percentages and adjusted for design effects, p < 0.05. much the same. “Finding purpose and meaning in one’s life” seems more personal and possibly more selfish than “making a contribution to society,” but it is perhaps also more realistic and less grandiose. However, data from the Sloan study show that participants considered altruism as the most important value among a host of job values (Csikszentmihalyi and Schneider, 2000:50). Two items relating to geography were included in Table 6-1 because they were hypothesized to affect willingness to enlist in military service. It was expected that propensity and actual enlistment would be below average among those who placed high priority on living close to parents and relatives, but above average among those who considered it important to “get away from this area of the country.” These expectations were correct with respect to the latter dimension, but the findings with respect to living close to parents and relatives were more complex. Specifically, young men who entered military service had been lower on this dimension when they were high school seniors, but after enlistment the importance of this dimension increased significantly, and they no longer were

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment below average in the importance they attached to living close to parents. (This pattern did not appear consistently among the small numbers of military women in the samples.) In any case, the items concerning geography were at the bottom of the importance rankings for both males and females at both times. It thus appears that military service may have some extra appeal for those who want to move to a different area, but for most individuals that is not a matter of great importance. Citizenship, Civic Participation, and Patriotism As shown in Table 6-1, a substantial portion of youth feels that it is “extremely important” to make a contribution to society. We need to consider how this finding relates to (or manifests itself in) civic participation, volunteerism, and the propensity to enlist in the services. There are many potential determinants of Americans’ national or civic-related attitudes and behaviors and many reasonable indicators of these phenomena. As a result, it is not easy to determine whether change has occurred and, if so, what the sources of such change might be. Some observations, however, are noteworthy. Trust in government, responsiveness to proximal political events, voting in national elections, and many other forces may be pertinent. Some commentators believe that growing materialism and individualism have diminished civic society in America; they provide evidence that political participation and civic engagement in general are declining (Putnam 1995a, 1995b; Bellah et al., 1985; Easterlin and Crimmins, 1991). Survey researchers find that trust in government declined from the 1950s to the 1990s (Alwin, 1998). The attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, may have altered this picture. At the same time, youth are described as having relatively little interest in national politics, and they have low rates of voting in national and congressional elections (Tables 6-2a and 6-2b). This has been the case since 1972, when the voting age was lowered to 18 by the 26th amendment to the Constitution. Youth’s relative disinterest in traditional formal politics appears to be a trend that extends beyond U.S. horizons (Youniss et al., 2002). Recent surveys in the United States show that adolescents have little accurate knowledge about global issues or national political processes and at least until recently have felt little sense of threat, or potential threat, to their country (Schneider, 2001). This lack of knowledge may also have been altered by the September 11 events. Furthermore, recent studies at the National Opinion Research Center suggest that middle school and high school students (grades 6, 8, 10, and 12) are the most bored and the least engaged when they are attending history classes (Schneider, 2001; Csikszentmihalyi and Schneider, 2000:152).

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment TABLE 6-2a Presidential Voting by Age   Percentage Reporting They Voted in Presidential Elections by Age, 1964–2000 Year 18–20 21–24 25–34 35–44 45–64 65 and older 1964 39.2 51.3 64.7 72.8 75.9 66.3 1968 33.3 51.1 62.5 70.8 74.9 65.8 1972 48.3 50.7 59.7 66.3 70.8 63.5 1976 38.0 45.6 55.4 63.3 68.7 62.2 1980 35.7 43.1 54.6 64.4 69.3 65.1 1984 36.7 43.5 54.5 63.5 69.8 67.7 1988 33.2 38.3 48.0 61.3 67.9 68.8 1992 38.5 45.7 53.2 63.6 70.0 70.1 1996 31.2 35.4 43.1 54.9 N/A N/A 2000 28.4 24.2 43.7 55.0 64.1 67.6 SOURCE: Statistical Abstract of the United States. NOTE: The voting age population for 1964 and 1968 covers the civilian noninstitutional population 18 years old and over in Georgia and Kentucky, 19 and over in Alaska, 20 and over in Hawaii, and 21 and over elsewhere. The voting age population for 1972–2000 covers persons 18 years old and over in all states. Those who are more politically active among today’s youth often do not champion causes or goals that could be considered national in focus; instead they tend to direct their energies toward the resolution of global problems or to issues that might be more aptly described as promoting the welfare of humanity at large. Such issues are worldwide, not national, in scope and include human rights, poverty within and between nations, discrimination in all its manifold forms, the eradication of disease, animal rights, and environmental protection. Table 6-2b Congressional Voting   Percentage Reporting They Voted in Congressional Elections by Age, 1974–1998 Year 18–20 21–24 25–34 35–44 45–64 65 and older 1974 20.8 26.4 37.0 49.1 56.9 51.4 1982 19.8 28.4 40.4 52.2 62.2 59.9 1986 18.6 24.2 35.1 49.3 58.7 60.9 1990 18.4 22.0 33.8 48.4 55.8 60.3 1994 16.5 22.3 32.2 46.0 56.0 60.7 1998 13.5 N/A 28.0 40.7 53.6 59.5   SOURCE: Statistical Abstract of the United States.

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment Although some evidence suggests that civic participation is declining, there also is evidence that volunteerism among youth is on the increase (Wilson, 2000). As Figure 6-1 shows, the MTF surveys provide some confirmation. From 1990 to 2000 the proportion of high school seniors who participated in community affairs or did volunteer work at least a few times a year rose gradually from about 65 to about 75 percent, and the proportion who did so at least once or twice a month also rose by about 10 percentage points—from just over 20 to more than 30 percent. Furthermore, the proportions of MTF seniors who considered it quite or extremely important to be a leader in the community increased from 21 percent in 1976 to 36 percent in 1990 and to 39 percent in 2000. These findings suggest that the avoidance of national concerns has been accompanied by an emphasis on local as well as global problems. While representing a more specific scope, local activities can be a crucial element in the development of civic engagement. Youniss and his colleagues, focus- FIGURE 6-1 Percentage of high school seniors who participate in community affairs, class years 1976–2001, by gender and survey form number. SOURCE: Data from Monitoring the Future surveys.

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment ing on volunteering in the community, stress that civic activity during adolescence has lasting consequences (Youniss et al., 2002; Youniss and Yates, 1997; Youniss, McLellan, and Yates, 1997; Yates and Youniss, 1996). Their work is based on the theory that behavior drives attitude change. For example, high school volunteers in a soup kitchen, over the course of their service, developed empathy for the homeless as fellow human beings, reflected on their own advantages, and more generally began to consider broader political and moral issues as they thought about the circumstances of their own lives. In so doing, these youth had the opportunity to experience themselves as citizens, to develop a sense of efficacy as effective political agents, and to become more highly motivated to engage in their communities as adults. Confirming evidence for the benefits of volunteerism has been found in data from the Youth Development Study. The data show that volunteer participation during high school is part of the lives of a substantial minority of Minnesota youth; 37 percent reported at least some volunteer activity while in high school (Johnson et al., 1998). Youth select themselves to volunteer on the basis of previous orientations (e.g., high educational aspirations, higher educational plans, higher grade point averages, higher academic self-esteem, and a higher intrinsic motivation toward school work). However, when the effects of previous attitudes are taken into account, participation in volunteer work was found to foster intrinsic work values, including the importance of service to society as well as enhanced anticipation of future involvement in the community as adults (Johnson et al., 1998). Volunteering also reduced the propensity toward later illegal activity as the respondents began the transition to adulthood (Uggen and Janikula, 1999). In this study, volunteering did not exert an independent effect on educational plans, academic self-esteem, or grade point average. Furthermore, Verba et al. (1995) found that high school extracurricular activities, particularly participation in school government and clubs (but not sports), predict later political participation. Studies of social movement activists likewise support the conclusion that civic participation during adolescence and young adulthood encourages responsibility in youth, as well as more responsible and active political participation in adulthood (e.g., McAdam, 1988; Fendrich, 1993). Moreover, the effect of volunteering in high school on volunteering during the following four years has been shown to be significant, when numerous relevant background variables as well as prior altruistic and community-oriented values are taken into account (Oesterle et al., 1998; Astin, 1993). The extent to which volunteerism influences activities immediately after high school, such as postsecondary education or military service, is not known.

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment Education and Work Educational and Occupational Aspirations As discussed in Chapter 5, high school graduates have a number of competing opportunities open to them in the worlds of both education and work. During the last quarter of the 20th century, aspirations to complete four-year college programs rose dramatically. As Figure 6-2 shows, fewer than 30 percent of MTF high school seniors in the late 1970s expected “definitely” to complete college, but by the mid- to late 1990s about 60 percent of female seniors and about 50 percent of male seniors expected to do so. If those “probably” expecting to complete college are included, the shift is from about 50 percent in the late 1970s to about 80 percent among women and 75 percent among men in the late 1990s. FIGURE 6-2 Trends in plans to graduate from a four-year college program: High school seniors, 1976–2001. SOURCE: Data from Monitoring the Future surveys.

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment Looked at another way, it appears that during the space of about two decades the proportions of high school seniors not expecting (“probably” or “definitely”) to complete college was cut in half—from about 50 to less than 25 percent. If military recruitment were limited to the noncollege-bound, this great reduction in the target population would be exceedingly problematic. In fact, however, in recent years the majority of high school senior males with high military propensity have also planned to complete four years of college (Bachman et al., 2001a). Nevertheless, it is also the case that average levels of military propensity are lower among the college-bound than among others, so the rise in college aspirations has added to recruiting difficulties. It is important to note that the proportions expecting to complete college in the MTF reached a peak in 1996 and after that changed little through the latest available data (2001). It may be that in a booming economy, some high school seniors feel less certain that college is the only route to high-quality employment. This may be particularly true of high school students who already possess high levels of computer skills, for example. Consistent with the increase in college aspirations, there has been a rise in proportions of high school students, especially young women, expecting to obtain high status jobs. For example, between 1976 and 1995 the proportions expecting to become “professionals with a doctoral degree” increased by about half among young men and more than doubled among young women, with some decline thereafter (Figure 6-3). However, young people are generally not well informed about the kinds of educational credentials or other experiences that are required in particular kinds of work. Indeed, the National Survey of Working America (Gallup Organization, 1999) shows that 69 percent of young people ages 18–25 would “try to get more information about jobs or career options than [they] did the first time.” Yet adolescents tend to avoid courses or other experiences that could be construed as specific occupational preparation. Apparently, such courses are seen as a diversion from a college degree program and not commensurate with the goal of obtaining high-quality employment. Furthermore, vocational and technical schools and technical certification programs are neither popular nor esteemed (Kerckhoff, 2002). Youth may realize that the occupational world that they will enter after finishing their education may be quite different than the one that exists while they are in high school (Mortimer et al., 2002). At the same time, the importance of computer literacy in general is widely recognized (Anderson, 2002; Hellenga, 2002). However, instead of regarding technical courses in computer programming or any other technical programs as

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment disagreed, with that statement. Support for military intervention was lower when the purpose was to protect “the rights of other countries” rather than U.S. economic interests. Changes between senior year and follow-up (one or two years later) were small and not significant for all groups, indicating no socialization effects attributable to post-high school environments; however, modest selection effects were evident. Views About Unquestioning Obedience. “Servicemen should obey orders without question: Agree, Disagree, or Neither.” The final entry in Figure 6-12 shows responses to this item. This deceptively simple question is actually a bit like a trick question on a test. A correct answer would be “Yes, servicemen should obey orders provided the orders are lawful.” Such a response was not offered to respondents. In recent decades, high school seniors split their answers nearly evenly between agreement and disagreement, with many choosing the “neither” midpoint (coded 3). As can be seen in the figure, among young men, the agree responses slightly outnumber the disagree ones (among young women, data not shown, the split is even closer, although there is slightly more disagreement than agreement). The data in Figure 6-12 show modest selection effects; high school seniors headed for military service were significantly more likely than their classmates to endorse unquestioning obedience. But upon actual entry into military, some of the enlistees changed their views, and most such changes were in the direction of lessened support for unquestioning obedience. It thus appears that military socialization largely cancelled the initial differences. The authors of the study commented on this finding as follows (Bachman et al., 2000b:574–575): Arguably, the changes found with respect to obedience should meet with the approval of the military—and civilian—leadership, because such socialization has the effect of “correcting” some initial misconceptions about whether obedience in the armed forces should be absolute. Military doctrine maintains that service personnel are responsible to obey only lawful orders and to judge whether orders are lawful before following them. Clearly, such guidelines are quite different from the concept of “unquestioning obedience”; therefore, the changes found among servicemen in response to the obedience item suggest socialization consistent with military doctrine and training. YOUTH INFLUENCERS Young people’s beliefs, values, and attitudes are learned. They are formed and can be changed in interaction with others. It is therefore useful to inquire about who those influential others might be. In this

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment section the focus shifts from content to agency, from what beliefs, values, and attitudes influence youth propensity to enlist to who influences their propensity and how youth incorporate those influences into their career plans and decisions. While there are many potential influences on the propensity to enlist, the strongest are from a person’s social environment, particularly family and friends (Strickland, 2000). The purpose of this review is not to summarize cumulative theory and research on youth development but, more modestly, to identify those nexuses in the career decision-making process that bear most directly on propensity to enlist in the military. We limit our examination of the literature in three ways. First, we define influencers narrowly, i.e., in interpersonal terms. We do not consider impersonal influences, including TV, film, radio, the Internet, print outlets, or associated media. Second, we maintain a close focus on the dependent variable, propensity to enlist in the military. We draw on the literatures of socialization, attitude formation and change, and youth development only to the extent that it informs early career decision making. We recognize that there are youth exposed to lawless influences that result in them being disqualified from military service (Garbarino et al., 1997), but examination of the causes of deviant behaviors are beyond the scope of this study. Third, we limit inquiry to variables that can be manipulated, by which we mean variables admissible to intervention in military recruitment policy and practice. Background The primary domains in which youth function are families, schools, neighborhoods or communities, and, to a lesser extent, the workplace. Briefly stated, people influence one another in three basic ways. A person can exert influence on another through the provision of reward and punishment, through teaching or explicit guidance, or by modeling what is perceived as appropriated or desirable behavior. We accept these processes as given. Over the past 40 years, theory and research on youth influencers has evolved from efforts to understand youth attitudes and behaviors in terms of largely undifferentiated reference groups to more fine-grained significant-other influences. Taking Coleman’s seminal work, The Adolescent Society (1961), as a point of departure, the youth cohort was described as a society unto itself, a “world apart” that differs radically from adult society. Coleman’s adolescent society was a counterculture, even a contra-culture. His youth were rebellious, at odds with their parents and the rest of adult society. He memorably characterized the relationship between adult and youth cultures as a “generation gap,” a caricature that domi-

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment nated popular conceptions of the nation’s youth through the remainder of the century. Challenges to the generation gap thesis surfaced in both the popular and technical literature over the decades that followed. For example, in the mid-1970s DeFleur (1978) reported that male and female Air Force cadets experiencing periods of career indecision turned more to their parents (45 percent) and other adults (48 percent) than to siblings (2 percent) or peers (5 percent) for career advice. When asked who had the most influence on their futures, jobs, and careers, the cadets identified their fathers as the biggest influence and their mothers as second in importance. Soon thereafter, Stanford University issued a news release reporting that 4 out of 5 Stanford juniors sought advice on career planning from their parents, and 9 out of 10 sought parental advice on personal problems (Stanford University News Service, 1980). Rutter (1980) published an extensive meta-analysis of research on parent-child relationships in the United Kingdom and the United States, concluding that “young people share their parents’ values on the major issues of life and turn to their parents on most major concerns.” Taking dead aim at the generation gap thesis, Rutter asserted that “the concept that parent-child alienation is a usual feature of adolescence is a myth.” MTF findings from 1976 through 1998 consistently show that a bit fewer than half of high school seniors thought their ideas agreed with their parents’ ideas when it comes to how the students spent their money and their leisure time, whereas just over half perceived agreement about what is okay to do on a date. About two-thirds reported that their ideas about what they should wear were mostly or very similar to their parents’ ideas. Although roughly two-thirds reported having a fight or argument with parents three or more times during the past year, about two-thirds also indicated that overall they were more satisfied than dissatisfied with how they got along with their parents. Agreement was stronger on more fundamental issues. About three-quarters thought their ideas and their parents’ ideas were very similar or mostly similar with respect to religion, politics, what values are important in life, and what they, the students, should do with their lives. Finally, views about the value of education showed high and growing agreement with parents between 1976 and the early 1990s; the proportions perceiving mostly or very different views declined from 14 to about 8 percent, whereas proportions perceiving very similar views rose from about 50 to about 65 percent. Notably, this increase in perceived close agreement about the value of education coincided with the increase in proportions of high school seniors reporting that they definitely expected to complete a four-year college program.

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment Empirical evidence to the contrary, the generation gap definition of parent-youth relations persisted, which may have had the positive effect of intensifying inquiry into generational differences and parent-child relations in both the popular and technical literatures. For example, a Reader’s Digest study of four generations (Ladd, 1995) reported that Americans in every age group share basic values, concluding that the finding “explodes the generation-gap myth—for good.” A Sylvan Learning Centers study (International Communications Research, 1998) asked identical questions of teenagers and their parents about perceived and actual career aspirations and reported remarkable similarities in parent-child responses across a variety of issues. The persistence of the generation gap definition of parent-youth relations illustrates a noteworthy feature of much literature that characterizes youth. There is a penchant not limited to the popular press to dramatize, sensationalize, and otherwise mythologize youth behaviors and attitudes—to the detriment of youth (Youniss and Ruth, 2002). Adelson illustrated the point some years ago in an article in Psychology Today in which he cited the 1972 national election as an example. There had been talk that Democrat George McGovern would get the youth vote. After all, young people were supposed to be doves. Young people were supposed to be liberals. And young people would turn out to vote. The popular notion was that the youth vote would carry the election for McGovern. At the same time, youth studies were reporting that young people were as divided in their views on Vietnam as were their elders; that young people were probably more hawkish on war issues than were their elders; and that young people were less likely to vote, not more likely to vote, than were their elders. What happened? McGovern lost, convincingly. The conventional wisdom was wrong. Against this backdrop, it is instructive to examine what is known about youth influencers and how they affect youth career decision making in terms of accumulated theory and empirical research. The Achievement Process The social psychological model of the achievement process provides a useful initial framework within which to identify major influencers and key processes that affect youth career decisions. In The American Occupational Structure, Blau and Duncan (1967) documented the fact that sons’ educational and occupational achievements depend largely on their parents’ educational and occupational achievement levels. To be sure, Blau and Duncan were interested in such issues as how much mobility occurred in occupational careers and how sons’ career outcomes compared to their fathers—issues of intra- and intergenerational mobility and strati-

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment fication. They were not interested in youth influencers and career decision-making processes per se. They asked: What are the ways that family education and occupation advantages or disadvantages transfer from one generation to the next? How is it that family levels of achievement remain relatively stable across generations? Why is there an intergenerational correlation (typically r = 0.3) between fathers’ and sons’ levels of occupational prestige? Their research and that of others bear directly on the question of who influences youth career decisions. Following Sorokin and Parsons, Blau and Duncan reasoned and provided empirical confirmation for the theses that level of education is the key means by which society selects and distributes youth into occupational roles, and that education serves the critical socialization function of instilling achievement values and orientations in youth. Sewell and colleagues (Sewell et al., 1969, 1970) criticized the Blau and Duncan model for being too structural and too simplistic, as well as for its failure to explain the interpersonal processes that influence youth career decisions. Building on earlier work by Haller and Miller (1971), Sewell and colleagues (Sewell et al., 1969, 1970; Sewell and Hauser, 1975) expanded the model into a social psychological explanation of who influences youth aspirations and achievements and how that process works over time. Simply stated, the model indicates that parental levels of education, occupational prestige, and income predispose youth in career directions in three ways that sequentially involve a young person’s academic ability and performance, the expectations others have for her or him, and the youth’s own career aspirations. What a young person aspires to is the critical link in the process. Formed and modified in interaction with other people, young people assess their own educational and occupational prospects in terms of their understanding of their abilities and past performance. Independently, influential others also evaluate the young person’s potential and communicate their career expectations to her or him. Because individuals and families live in social networks with similar levels of education, occupational prestige and income, those with influence in a young person’s life—including teachers and peers—tend to have levels of education, occupational prestige, and income similar to the youth’s parents and therefore provide career encouragement, role models, and expectations that complement parental values. Thus formed, career aspirations set a young person on a career trajectory. A young person’s self-reflection (Haller and Portes, 1973) is complemented by the independent evaluations of significant others (Woelfel and Haller, 1971) who communicate their expectations to the young person thus influencing his or her career aspirations, which is the strongest predictor of eventual career achievements.

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment Sewell and Hauser documented the predictive and explanatory power of the social psychological model of the achievement process at length (1972). Alexander et al. (1975) offered strong independent support based on a national sample. Otto and Haller (1975) provided conceptual replications based on four datasets and, assessing the convergence of theory and research across datasets, concluded that there is strong support for the social psychological explanation of the achievement process (see also Featherman, 1981; Hotchkiss and Borrow, 1996). Significant-Other Influences Significant others are people who are important and influential in the lives of others. The social sciences distinguish two kinds of significant others, role-incumbent and person-specific significant others. Role-incumbent significant others have influence because they have power and authority over a young person, who, for that reason, is beholden to them. Examples include parents, teachers, and police officers. Person-specific significant others, by comparison, are chosen by the individual. Examples include best friend, role model, and confidant—relationships based on understanding and trust. Person-specific significant others have influence not because they have power associated with their role, but because individuals choose to follow them as models and exemplars. Young people follow them not because they have to, but because they want to, which positions person-specific significant others to make a difference in young people’s lives. The empirical literature on the development of aspirations and achievements sketches the achievement process with broad-brushed strokes, and that literature is largely limited to estimating the effects of parents, teachers, and peers on respondents’ aspirations and achievements. That literature concludes that parents have the critical influence (Sewell and Hauser, 1975) on sons’ career aspirations and achievements. However, the large-scale longitudinal datasets on which achievement research tends to be based do not lend themselves to sharply focused inquiry into youth influencers. It is therefore instructive to intensify inquiry into youth career influencers in two ways: by broadening the inquiry to include more potential influencers and by shifting the focus from selected role-incumbent significant others to person-specific significant others. Two studies inquired directly of youth about who influenced their occupational choice. Rather than assuming that persons in particular roles influenced youth and then measuring that influence, both studies asked the youth to specify who influenced specific aspects of their career plans. In the Youth Development Study (Mortimer, 2001) students were surveyed about their experiences in the family, school, peer group, and work-

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment place each year during high school (1988–1991). Following a question about occupational choice, Mortimer and colleagues asked the high school seniors: “Have any of the following people influenced your choice of this kind of work?” Respondents were instructed to circle all that apply from a list of 15 possibilities. Several observations follow from the results. Two-thirds of seniors identified a friend as the person who influenced their choice of occupation “very much, much, or somewhat.” Mothers followed closely. An adult working in the same field was chosen third most often, followed by father and teacher or coach at school. Fewer than half of the seniors identified anyone else as having influenced their choice of work—e.g., siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, another relative, a guidance counselor, a work-study coordinator, a neighbor or adult friend, or a priest, minister, or rabbi. It is noteworthy how prominently person-specific significant others were identified as influencers—particularly friends and adults working in the same field. Very few youth mention no influencers on their career choices. Clearly, young people seek and find guidance from others in their vocational decision making. There were no differences in the number of influencers identified by adolescent gender, race, or nativity, but youth from two-parent families reported more influencers than those from other family structures. Their advantage comes from having two parents to draw on for help in thinking through their vocational goals. Other YDS data indicate that sons were particularly influenced by their fathers’ s occupational values. The transmission of values from parents to children was mediated by close, communicative family relationships (Ryu and Mortimer, 1996). In the Youth and Careers Study, Otto (2000) also examined parent-youth relationships in the context of career development and, like Mortimer, gathered information from the perspective of youth themselves. He asked 362 juniors from six high schools in North Carolina about specific career development attitudes and behaviors that bear on their relations with their parents. A total of 80 to 90 percent of participants reported that they discussed their occupational career plans with their parent or guardian often or sometimes during the past year, and that their ideas regarding the occupation they should enter, the value of a college education, and how they should prepare for a career were all similar to their parents’ ideas. More than three-fourths discussed plans for college, two-thirds discussed career preparation possibilities other than college, and half discussed plans for vocational or trade school often or sometimes with their parents during the past year. Respondents named their mothers most often as the person who offered the greatest help when discussing career plans and was most aware of their career interests and abilities. That is, respondents talked to their

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment mothers most seriously about the occupation they wanted to enter and about the training or education required to enter the selected occupation. Friends or fathers were typically ranked second or third. The findings generally held for young women as well as young men, although young women tended to rank friends higher than fathers, whereas young men ranked fathers higher than friends. The findings also are consistent across race, although more blacks than whites reported career assistance from their parents and from their mothers, while fewer blacks reported assistance from their fathers. A third set of studies is less rigorous but queried Army and Air Force enlistees at selected time points from 1990 to 1999 about who influenced their decisions to join the military (Strickland, 2000). In 1992, 1994, 1996, and 1999, Army enlistees were asked who was their most supportive influencer. Mothers were cited most often and fathers second, followed by significant others, friends, siblings, and educators. The major influencers were the same for Air Force enlistees in 1992, 1996, and 1999. Mothers ranked highest, followed by fathers, then Air Force veterans and spouse or fiancé, siblings, and counselors. Air Force enlistees ranked Air Force veterans highest in support of their enlistment decisions, followed by father, then mother, spouse/fiancé, sibling, and counselor. When asked who was their most supportive influencer, Air Force enlistees ranked parents highest, followed by spouse or fiancé and other family, siblings, recruiters, and counselors. The Army and Air Force enlistee reports are not directly comparable to the civilian population studies, and they are not representative of all Service branches. Nonetheless, the influence patterns reported by enlistees largely parallel those reported by civilian youth and underscore the influence of parents, mothers as well as fathers, in the youth career decision making process. Summary of Youth Influencers Two questions framed our inquiry: Who influences youth propensity to enlist in the military, and how do young people incorporate those influences into their career plans and decisions? The marked trend in theory development and empirical studies is understanding parent-youth relations as compatible and supportive across a range of substantive issues. We reviewed key studies over four decades in three genres of research: intergenerational mobility in the occupational structure, social-psychological processes affecting achievement outcomes, and current cross-sectional research on youth reports of significant-other influences on their careers. Across studies the single most compelling observation is that parents have a critical influence on their sons’ and daughters’ career

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment aspirations and achievements. The most recent and most carefully conceptualized and executed studies point to the important role mothers play in affecting youth career plans and decisions. Others to whom youth turn include peers, fathers, other adults, and counselors. These results are generally replicated in Army and Air Force enlistee reports. Close examination of the empirical data suggests that parents, peers, counselors, and recruiters exert different kinds of influence on youth career decisions. Attitude theories traditionally differentiate between two attitude dimensions, direction and intensity. Directionality indicates whether an individual is pro or con on an issue, disposed to act favorably or unfavorably. Intensity indicates whether an individual is likely to act, whether he or she is sufficiently motivated to behave in the direction of the attitude. Lack of clarity on either dimension, uncertainty of direction or lack of commitment to the position, disposes the individual to passivity. Career aspirations are attitudes (Woelfel and Haller, 1971) that require both direction and intensity if they are to translate into behavior. Formulating direction for a defined occupational career objective or trajectory requires cognitively processing information, but acting in the direction of a particular career requires motivation. Information and reason may persuade, but behavior is driven by commitment and emotion. There is some suggestion in the recent empirical research that this attitude-behavior paradigm applies to youth career decision making. When youth are asked about such aspects of career decision making as who is “most aware of their abilities and interests,” who is “most helpful to them when talking about career plans,” and who “most often influenced” their choice of work, young people clearly look to their parents, especially their mothers. Army and Air Force enlistees also named their mothers, then their fathers, as their most supportive influencers. Only Air Force veterans were ranked slightly higher than mothers and fathers in support of Air Force enlistment decisions. However, when questions sharpen and require more factually based information—e.g., with whom do young people talk most seriously about the training or education they need to enter the occupation they want, with whom would they like to talk more about their career plans, or who was the most important information source for Army enlistees—then they also attribute importance to information providers, to counselors, and to recruiters. The implication is that recruitment effectiveness may be improved by complementing information with messages designed to activate social support for enlistee decisions. Parents are uniquely positioned to provide encouragement, affirmation, and legitimization of a young person’s aspirations and career decisions. One notable observation is that when it comes to making career

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment plans, youth consider parents as more than role-incumbent significant others, but also as person-specific significant others. Youth choose to follow their parents’ career advice not because they have to but because they want to. The implication for military recruitment is that enlisting parental support may yield enlistment dividends. The important role mothers play in the youth career decision-making process should not be lost. Not only do youth credit their mothers with being especially influential in their career decisions but also, traditionally, mothers have been the family voice on social and expressive issues. Mothers are positioned to support youth career decisions, but they are likely to do so only if their sons and daughters career decisions square with their own beliefs and values. Mother’s ideological perspective on military service cannot be ignored in designing effective recruitment programs. Traditionally, women have been more pacifist than men. They have been less experienced in military matters, and they may have less knowledge of military life and careers on which to advise their sons and daughters responsibly. Moreover, data from the General Social Survey, by the National Opinion Research Center, indicate that contemporary women have less confidence in military leaders than do men: only 31 percent of women compared with 43 percent of men express a great deal of confidence in the military (Mitchell, 2000:173). It is tenuous to assume, therefore, that mothers are predisposed to support youth propensity and enlistment. In fact, mothers may be more likely to be lukewarm or even oppose military careers—perceived as action-packed carnage—for their own daughters and sons. However, the same mothers may be more favorably disposed toward the nonwarrior definitions of military service—military as peacemaker, peacekeeper, and administrator of humanitarian aid—which suggests that promoting these forms of military service might energize mothers’ support. Mothers are important influencers in the youth career decision-making process, and accurately ascertaining their military ideological stance together with fashioning recruitment messages that appeal to rather than counter their traditional attitudes may hold promise for more effective recruiting. Young people’s propensity to enlist is based not only on their own evaluations of their past performance and potential, but also on the assessments and expectations that influential others make and communicate to them. Their career aspirations portend their career behaviors. Parents are well positioned to provide support for both their aspirations and their career decisions. This raises the possibility that military recruitment effectiveness may be improved by taking into account major youth influencers and the critical processes that affect youth career decisions.

OCR for page 149
Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment SUMMARY In this chapter we reviewed three large databases as well as a locally based longitudinal study and a few cross-sectional studies. We also examined the professional literature on socialization, attitude formation, and youth development. Our focus was on (1) youth values and attitudes toward work, education, and the military and (2) the degree of influence that parents, counselors, and peers have on the choices made by youth regarding these options. Our analysis suggests that, over the past two decades or more, there has been little change in youth ratings of the importance of various goals in life, preferred job characteristics, and work settings. The primary value that has been changing is college aspirations, and this has led to increases in rates of college attendance through the mid-1990s. One useful finding regarding education and military service is that in recent years the majority of high school seniors (both male and female) who reported highest military propensity also expected “probably” or “definitely” to complete a four-year college program. This was also found among young males who actually entered military service (within 5–6 years after high school). Although overall levels of propensity have been shown to be lower among the college-bound, those college aspirants who also plan on military service are just as likely to enter the Service as those without college aspirations. These findings have important implications for military recruiting policy in terms of recruiting college-bound youth and in offering to these youth higher education opportunities in conjunction with military service. Other aspects of youth attitudes and behavior that provide potential guidance for the design of military recruiting and adverting messages include: (1) the time in which youth make decisions about education and careers has extended well into their 20s; (2) there has been little or no change in youths’ views about the military service as a workplace or the value and appropriateness of military missions; (3) there has been some increase in the desire of youth to have two or more weeks vacation—a benefit of military service over the private sector; (4) there is a possible link between youth attitudes toward civic duty and volunteerism and military service (the potential of this link requires further study); and (5) parents (particularly mothers) and counselors have a strong influence on youth decision making with regard to career and educational choices.