Dispositional affect and career barriers: the moderating roles of gender and coping.
Keywords: dispositional affect, career barriers, coping efficacy, gender
Dispositional affect refers to an individual's tendency to respond to situations with a positive or negative emotional approach (Watson & Clark, 1984). It is different from mood because it is considered more pervasive and does not change according to the situation. Those with negative affect are more likely to experience distress in any given situation, whereas those with positive affect are more likely to experience satisfaction and well-being (Watson & Clark, 1984). Although it has been suggested that dispositional affect might play a role in how individuals perceive career barriers and their abilities to cope with them (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994, 2000), there is a lack of empirical research to demonstrate these relationships. Attention to dispositional affect can assist career counselors in understanding how clients perceive barriers, in addition to their willingness and ability to cope with them to achieve career goals (Lent et ah, 1994, 2000). The present study examined the relationships between positive and negative dispositional affect, perceptions of career barriers, and coping efficacy for career barriers. We also examined gender differences in the relationship among the variables because perceptions of barriers and coping efficacy can potentially vary widely because of experiences of discrimination in the workplace (Welle & Heilman, 2007).
Perception of Career Barriers
The concept of perceived barriers "implies that the career-related barriers an individual believes currently exist or may be encountered in the future are not necessarily grounded in reality or based on factual information" (Albert & Luzzo, 1999, p. 431). Perceived career barriers may cause people to underestimate their own abilities and overlook career options and opportunities. For example, previous studies have demonstrated that greater perceptions of career barriers had a negative relationship with aspects of career aspirations (e.g., Kenny, Blustein, Chaves, Grossman, & Gallagher, 2003). There is also evidence of gender and ethnic differences in perceptions of career barriers. For example, women and ethnic minorities expected to encounter more career barriers than men and White/European American students (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001), whereas Black/African American women perceived significantly greater career barriers than White/European American and Hispanic women (Lopez & Ann-Yi, 2006). Mexican American college students who perceived career barriers were significantly more likely to foreclose on career choices (Leal-Muniz & Constantine, 2005), whereas Mexican American women who perceived fewer barriers chose more prestigious careers (Flores & O'Brien, 2002). Considering that perceptions of career barriers can negatively affect career development for women and ethnic minorities, it is crucial to develop an understanding of individuals' perceptions of career barriers as well as their abilities to cope with them.
Lent et al. (2000) suggested that the personal qualities of individuals, such as dispositional affect, might affect how they perceive career barriers. Dispositional affect has been studied in relation to a number of aspects of career development, such as perceptions of college success, productive work habits, job satisfaction, and lower likelihood of unemployment (Diener, Nickerson, Lucas, & Sandvik, 2002; Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005; Nickerson, Diener, & Schwarz, 2011).
Although career barriers can be overcome, it often depends on the specific barrier and the personal characteristics of the individual (Swanson and Woitke, 1997). Within the context of social cognitive career theory (SCCT), Lent et al. (1994, 2000) suggested that dispositional affect might influence the way that individuals understand information related to self-efficacy. For example, they might negatively judge self-efficacy enhancing events and thus miss out on opportunities to build self-efficacy. In addition, they hypothesized that perceptions of barriers might influence the formation of goals through self-efficacy.
The relationship between dispositional affect and coping efficacy has been established with various health- and wellness-related variables (e.g., Chartier, Gaudreau, & Fecteau, 2011; Nes & Segerstrom, 2006). To date, no studies could be located that investigated the relationship between both positive and negative dispositional affect and coping efficacy for career barriers.
Coping Efficacy for Career Barriers
Coping efficacy refers to an individual's belief in his or her ability to cope with difficult situations or tasks (Bandura, 1997). In relation to career barriers, coping efficacy refers to "one's perceived capability to negotiate particular situational features that obstruct or complicate performance" (Lent et al., 2000, p. 46). For example, career barriers among academically gifted students were negatively related to coping efficacy, and coping efficacy was positively related to outcome expectations for careers (Perrone, Civiletto, Webb, & Fitch, 2004). Ethnic minority students were found to perceive more career-related barriers than European American students and also demonstrated lower self-efficacy for coping with career barriers (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001).
Purpose of the Study
According to SCCT, personal, environmental, and behavioral factors influence self-efficacy development, as well as expectations of outcomes and, ultimately, goals and performance. In addition, SCCT addresses how individuals' contextual environments both positively and negatively influence aspects of their career development. The theory posits that contextual barriers can influence career development in two ways. The first is through personal, environmental, and behavioral background factors that affect self-efficacy development, as well as expectations of outcomes. The second is by moderating the pathways between career interests, choice goals, and actions (Lent et al., 1994, 2000). Because of its attention to the role of personal inputs to career development, as well as contextual barriers and supports, SCCT provides a useful theoretical basis for the study of how dispositional affect and perceptions of barriers affect career development. The current study examined the relationships among the variables of gender, positive and negative dispositional affect, coping efficacy, and perceptions of career barriers. We examined the following research questions:
1. Does coping with career barriers moderate the relationship between negative dispositional affect and the perception of career barriers differently for men and women?
2. Does coping with career barriers moderate the relationship between positive dispositional affect and the perception of career barriers differently for men and women?
A total of 359 upper-level students at a large, midwestern university started the online survey; however, 57 did not complete any of the study measures or did not indicate consent. These responses were removed from the sample leaving a total of 302 completed surveys for the study. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 24 years, with a mean age of 21.24 years. Regarding gender, 33.7% identified as male and 66.3% identified as female. Sophomore year (2nd-year) students made up 1.0% of the sample, junior year (3rd-year) students made up 23.5%, senior year (4th-year) students made up 58.8%, and 5th-year students made up 16.7%. Of the participants, 61.4% identified as non-Hispanic White, 6.1% as non-Hispanic Black or African American, 12.9% as non-White Hispanic, 8.8% as non-Hispanic Asian or Asian American, 1.4% as Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 6.1% as multiracial, and 3.3% identified as other.
Dispositional affect. We used the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) to measure dispositional affect. The PANAS consists of 20 items on two subscales, Positive Affect and Negative Affect. A list of 20 words that describe feelings and emotions are provided and respondents are asked to "Indicate to what extent you have felt this way in the past year." The PANAS is scored on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (very slightly/not at all) to 5 (very likely). Reliability estimates (Cronbach's alpha coefficients) ranged from .86 to .90 for the Positive Affect subscale and .84 to .87 for the Negative Affect subscale. For the current study, the reliability estimate for the Positive Affect subscale was .86, and the estimate for the Negative Affect subscale was .84. Concurrent validity of the PANAS has been demonstrated through correlations with measures of affect, general distress, and depression (Watson et al., 1988).
Perceptions of career barriers. We assessed the perception of barriers using a modified version of the Perception of Barriers scale (POB; McWhirter, 1997), which measures perceptions of educational and occupational career barriers. The modified version consists of 32 items on two subscales, Career-Related Barriers and Educational Barriers (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001). For the current study, we used only the modified version of the Career-Related Barriers subscale. It included eight original items reflecting career-related barriers plus an additional three items related to childcare (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001). Each item was presented first (e.g., "Not having enough confidence is ... ") and then followed by a stem ("currently a barrier to my career aspirations"). The items were scored on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly disagree). Higher scores on the Career-Related Barriers subscale indicate perception of more career barriers. A Cronbach's coefficents alpha of .86 was obtained with a sample of college-age students (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001). For the present study, the reliability estimate was .89.
Coping with barriers. The Coping With Barriers scale (CWB; Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001) measures confidence in the ability to overcome educational and career barriers. The CWB scale consists of 28 items that parallel the Career-Related Barriers and Educational Barriers subscale items of the aforementioned POB. For the current study, we used only the Coping With Career Barriers subscale. Respondents were asked to "Rate the degree of confidence that you could overcome each potential career barrier (e.g., have a harder time getting hired than people of other racial/ethnic backgrounds) listed below." The items were scored on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly disagree). The items on the Coping With Career Barriers subscale are summed for a total score, with higher scores reflecting an individual's ability to overcome barriers. A Cronbach's alpha coefficient of .88 was reported for the Coping With Career Barriers subscale in a sample of college-age students (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001). For the current sample, the reliability estimate for the Coping With Career Barriers subscale was .92.
After obtaining approval from the university's internal review board, we sent recruitment e-mails directly to a random sample of upper-level, degree-seeking students at a large, midwestern university. We sent out a reminder e-mail 2 weeks later to encourage students to complete the survey. Each recruitment e-mail included a web link to an online survey. When participants first clicked the web link, they were provided with an informed consent form. After agreeing to participate in the study, participants were asked to fill out the survey instruments in the following order: demographic form, PANAS, POB, and CWB.
We used Cohen, Cohen, West, and Aiken's (2003) recommendations to assess regression assumptions. There was no reason to suspect a violation of independence of observations. Multicollinearity diagnostics revealed no problems with these analyses. Variance inflation factors (VIF) ranged from 1.00 to 1.05, and tolerances ranged from 0.95 to 1.00. Values greater than 10 for VIF and values less than .10 for tolerance suggest possible multicollinearity (Cohen et al, 2003). A visual examination of the normal probability plot of standardized residuals revealed no deviations from normalcy. We assessed multivariate normalcy with standardized residuals ([+ or -] 3 SD) and Cook's Distance. One participant had a standardized residual greater than 3; therefore, that case was removed from further analysis. No case had a Cook's Distance exceed 1.00, which suggested no undue influence on the dependent variable. Eight cases (including the one that also showed multivariate nonnormalcy) had univariate outliers ([+ or -]3 SD) on at least one of the study variables; therefore, these cases were removed from the study leaving a total sample of 294 out of the original 302 completed cases.
To determine if positive and negative dispositional affect and coping with career barriers (coping) were predictors of the perception of career barriers, as well as to determine if positive affect interacted with coping and gender, we conducted two separate hierarchical regression analyses by following the procedures of Aiken and West (1991). First, we centered three predictor variables (positive affect, negative affect, and coping); then, we created multiplicative interaction terms. For the first hierarchical regression model, we entered gender, positive affect, and coping in the first block. We entered two-way interaction terms (Positive Affect x Gender, Positive Affect x Coping, and Coping x Gender) as a second block in the regression model. We entered the three-way interaction term (Positive Affect x Coping x Gender) as the third block. For the second hierarchical regression model, negative affect replaced positive affect.
If a two-way interaction term was significant (p < .05), we used the PROCESS SPSS macro developed by Hayes and Matthes (2009) and applied the Johnson-Neyman technique to identify and explore the significant interaction effect. Using Model One of this macro, we calculated 95% confidence intervals around scores for the moderator (coping) at which the effect of the focal predictor (positive or negative affect) was statistically significantly associated with the outcome variable (perception of career barriers). These effects were examined and also graphed and examined at low (one standard deviation below the mean) and high (one standard deviation above the mean) values of the moderator variable. If a three-way interaction term was significant (p < .05), we analyzed the results by investigating two 2-way interactions, one for women and one for men.
To determine if various demographic variables were significantly related to the study variables, we conducted a series of analyses of variance (ANOVAs) and independent t tests for categorical demographic data, and we conducted bivariate correlations for continuous demographic data. Age was not significantly correlated with any of the study variables (rs = -.01 to .07, ps = .22 to .93), and no mean differences were found for year in school (Fs = 0.01 to 2.51, ps = .06 to .97). There was a significant mean difference for men and women for the perception of career barriers variable, t(292) = 3.02, p < .05, d = 0.63, with women scoring higher than men. There was also a significant mean difference for ethnicity on this measure, F(6, 287) = 3.88, p < .001. Post hoc analyses using the Tukey post hoc criterion for significance indicated that the average mean score for the perception of career barriers was lower for non-Hispanic Whites (M = 25.39, SD = 8.06) than for both non-White Hispanics (M = 26.03, SD = 8.96, d = -0.08) and non-Hispanic Blacks or African Americans (M = 34.67, SD = 9.58, d = -1.05). Therefore, we entered gender and ethnicity as covariates in the two separate hierarchical regression analyses. Descriptive statistics, bivariate correlations, and Cronbach's alpha coefficients for the measures are presented in Table 1.
Tests of Moderation
With regard to negative affect, although the overall model was significant [R.sup.2] = .18, T(8, 285) = 7.83, p < .001 (see Table 2), none of the two-way or three-way interaction terms were significant (ps = .19 to .98). The main effects of gender, ethnicity, negative affect, and coping on perceptions of career barriers were significant (p < .05). The model investigating positive affect was significant, [R.sup.2] = .18, T(8,285) = 7.84, p < .001, and a significant three-way interaction was found [DELTA][R.sup.2] = .03, T(l, 285) = 10.48, p < .05. We explored the three-way interaction by examining the two-way Coping x Positive Affect interaction individually for male and female students. The Coping x Positive Affect interaction did explain additional variance in the perceptions of career barriers for both women, [DELTA] [R.sup.2] = .02, T(l, 190) = 5.12, p < .025, and men, [DELTA] [R.sup.2] = .07, .F(l, 94) = 6.16, p < .025.
When investigating effects for women separately, the results revealed a weakening of the negative beta weight between positive affect and the perception of career barriers, as coping scores increased with a Johnson-Neyman value of 22.50. In other words, at very low levels of coping, increased levels of positive affect led to declines in the perceptions of career barriers. However, as coping scores increased to 22.50 or higher, positive affect had a nonsignificant effect on the perception of career barriers (i.e., the beta between the two variables moved to zero). In Figure la, values are plotted one standard deviation above and below the mean for both positive affect and coping on the perception of career barriers for women.
An opposite effect was found for men. The results showed a dwindling of the positive beta weight between positive affect and the perception of career barriers, as coping scores increased with a Johnson-Neyman value of 24.99. In other words, at diminished levels of coping, increased levels of positive affect led to increases in the perceptions of career barriers, and this was the opposite effect compared with women. However, as coping scores increased to 24.99 or higher, the relationship between positive affect and the perception of career barriers became nonsignificant (i.e., the beta between the two variables moved to zero). The interaction for men is shown in Figure lb.
This study explored the role of a personal input variable (dispositional affect) on contextual career barriers, both of which are aspects of social cognitive career theory. Specifically, the study examined whether gender and coping efficacy for career barriers moderated the relationship between both positive and negative dispositional affect and the perceptions of career barriers. Significant relationships were found among several of the demographic variables and the outcome variables. Women had significantly higher perceptions of career barriers than men, and non-Hispanic White participants had significantly lower perceptions of career barriers than non-Hispanic Black/African American and non-White Hispanic participants. These findings corroborate other results in the literature, which found that women and minorities perceived more career barriers than men and non-Hispanic Whites (Flores & O'Brien, 2002; Leal-Muniz & Constantine, 2005; Lopez & Ann-Yi, 2006; Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001; Raque-Bogdan, Klingaman, Martin, & Lucas, 2013).
Negative Dispositional Affect
The interaction between negative dispositional affect and coping efficacy was not significantly associated with perceptions of career barriers for men or women. However, negative dispositional affect was a significant predictor of perceptions of career barriers. As individuals' levels of negative dispositional affect increased, their perceptions of career barriers also increased. These results are consistent with Lent et al.'s (2001) findings that negative affect was positively correlated with perceptions of math and science barriers and that perception of math and science barriers shared significant overlap with global perceptions of career barriers (e.g., discrimination, choosing nontraditional careers).
Positive Dispositional Affect
Coping efficacy was found to moderate the relationship between positive dispositional affect and perceptions of career barriers differently for women and men. For men with high levels of positive affect, stronger coping efficacy for career barriers was significantly associated with a decrease in perceptions of career barriers. In other words, coping efficacy for career barriers appeared to help men with high positive affect decrease their perceptions of career barriers. These findings were consistent with previous studies that found that higher levels of positive affect increased a person's cognitive flexibility (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005) and ability to perceive a wider range of solutions to problems (Baron, Hmieleski, & Henry, 2012). It appears that high levels of positive dispositional affect (i.e., satisfaction and well-being) work in concert with an increase in coping efficacy to lower perceptions of barriers. Research that investigated different styles of coping also supports this finding. Individuals with high levels of dispositional positive affect were more likely to use task-oriented coping as opposed to disengagement-oriented coping (Chattier et al., 2011). Therefore, men with high positive dispositional affect may be more likely to engage in self-efficacy building strategies. According to Bandura (1997), these strategies include learning vicariously, adaptive interpretation of physiological arousal, mastery experience, and openness to social persuasion.
For men with lower levels of positive affect, their perceptions of career barriers did not change significantly with an increase in coping efficacy. Men with lower positive affect may be less open to or have more pessimistic beliefs about developing the skills and techniques to assist in breaking down career barriers. With lower levels of positive dispositional affect, they might also be more likely to disengage as a coping style rather than actively attempting to find solutions to barriers.
For women with high levels of positive affect, perceptions of career barriers did not significantly decrease with an increase in coping efficacy. This finding contradicts the results for men with high levels of positive affect. It is, however, consistent with research that suggests that there can be detrimental costs to high levels of positive affect, including the tendency to overvalue ideas and opportunities, overlook details, and have a reduced ability to recognize patterns (Baron et al, 2012). It has been suggested that barriers perceived by women and minority college students can be a reflection of institutional racism and sexism, and this requires work toward systemic transformation as opposed to individual change (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001). Women may perceive career barriers as societal barriers that require cultural change rather than a shift within the individual. They may be less receptive to individual coping strategies because coping may be seen as futile against an impenetrable barrier.
For women with lower levels of positive dispositional affect, an increase in coping efficacy significantly decreased their perceptions of career barriers. According to Baron et al. (2012), individuals with moderately high levels of dispositional positive affect are more balanced in their perceptions of both positive and negative information. Therefore, women with low levels of positive affect may actually have a more practical and realistic sense of individual and environmental career barriers and may be more open to ideas to cope with them.
The contrasting results for men and women in this study may be related to differences in perceptions of control over career barriers. With regard to women, career barriers are more likely to be seen as impenetrable (i.e., a glass ceiling) regardless of their levels of positive affect and coping abilities. Conversely, positive affect and coping are much more likely to play a role in how men perceive career barriers. For example, men with lower positive affect may have a sense of inability to effect change preventing them from using coping skills to reduce perceptions of career barriers.
Implications for Career Counseling
The results of this study provide several implications for career counselors when working with men and women regarding career barriers. First, career counselors should assess their clients for dispositional affect and coping efficacy for career barriers. This can be accomplished through the use of published inventories such as the PANAS (Watson et al., 1988) and the CWB (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001). Once career counselors have a better understanding of their clients' affect, coping, and types of career barriers faced, they can create more focused interventions to assist them. Because men and women with higher levels of negative dispositional affect tended to have greater perceptions of career barriers, interventions to challenge inaccurate perceptions about career barriers could be useful. Clients could be encouraged to evaluate the possibility of encountering potential barriers and develop strategies to manage them (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2002). Counselors could encourage clients to identify their inaccurate assumptions about a particular career and then restate them more positively and accurately (Sharf, 2006).
Because of the interaction between gender, positive affect, and coping efficacy, the results of the study indicate the need for different types of interventions for men and women with high levels of dispositional affect to reduce perceived career barriers. For example, men with high positive dispositional affect would likely benefit from activities aimed at building coping efficacy for career barriers, such as vicarious learning, adaptive interpretation of physiological arousal, mastery experience, and openness to social persuasion (Bandura, 1997). For example, a counselor might encourage a client to interview individuals working in a particular career field to learn how they navigated various career barriers. Women with high positive dispositional affect, on the other hand, might be more likely to benefit from developing advocacy skills to address career-related barriers on a broader level. Luzzo and McWhirter (2001) suggested that counselors consider intervening on behalf of female clients to help reduce institutional and societal barriers.
Similarly, because of the three-way interaction, different interventions for men and women with lower levels of positive dispositional affect should also be considered. Because an increase in coping efficacy is less likely to help men in reducing their perceptions of career barriers, interventions that focus on increasing positive emotions might be more successful. Greater positivity can lead to more task-oriented coping (Chartier et al., 2011) and receptiveness to developing coping strategies (Baron et al, 2012). For women with lower levels of positive dispositional affect, career counselors could consider focusing on helping clients increase their coping efficacy for career barriers. Role-playing and exposing clients to role models are activities that can help clients view experiences differently (Sharf, 2006) and increase skills to cope with potential career barriers.
Limitations and Future Research
Future researchers should obtain more ethnically diverse samples to see if these results can be replicated or found to be different in unique ways. A limitation of the present study is the use of a cross-sectional design making it impossible to determine causality. Researchers should therefore consider longitudinal designs to examine causality. Many of the participants in this study were upper-level undergraduate students. Therefore, future research should also consider investigating other age groups and populations to assist in understanding how career barriers can vary among other groups and at other ages and developmental stages.
Future research may also investigate the type of coping skills used by individuals to manage barriers to career development. This could help identify the specific types of coping that might be more effective in mitigating perceptions of career barriers. For example, Chartier et al. (2011) found that disengagement-oriented coping mediated the relationship between negative dispositional affect and academic goal attainment. They also found that task-oriented coping mediated the relationship between positive dispositional affect and academic goal attainment. It is possible that similar relationships might be found with regard to perceptions of career barriers. This could help practitioners develop more specific interventions related to coping with career barriers.
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Alexandra Novakovic and Philip B. Gnilka, Department of Counseling and Special Education, DePaul University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Alexandra Novakovic, Department of Counseling and Special Education, DePaul University, 2247 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60614 (e-mail: email@example.com).
TABLE 1 Descriptive Statistics, Chronbach's Alphas, and Bivariate Correlations Among Variables Variable Min Max M SD [alpha] 1. Positive affect 24 50 37.83 5.81 .84 2. Negative affect 10 40 20.85 6.26 .86 3. Coping with career barriers 7 35 28.67 6.02 .92 4. Perception of career barriers 11 51 26.62 8.93 .89 Variable 1 2 3 4 1. Positive affect -- 2. Negative affect -.19 ** -- 3. Coping with career barriers .14 ** -.21 ** -- 4. Perception of career barriers -.10 .20 ** -.24 ** -- Note. N = 294. Min = minimum; max = maximum. ** p< .01. TABLE 2 Hierarchical Multiple Regression Analyses Predicting Perceived Career Barriers Among Variables Variable B SE B [beta] [R.sup.2] Using Positive Affect (POS) Step 1 .15 Ethnicity 0.48 0.24 .11 * G -4.43 1.04 -.24 * POS -0.05 0.10 -.03 COPE -0.40 0.10 -.27 * Step 2 .15 G x POS 0.20 0.19 .07 G x COPE 0.03 0.18 .01 POS x COPE 0.04 0.02 .16 * Step 3 .18 G x POS x COPE -0.10 0.03 -.23 * Using Negative Affect (NEG) Step 1 .16 Ethnicity 0.51 0.24 .11 * G -4.72 1.05 -.25 * NEG 0.30 0.10 .21 * COPE -0.34 0.10 -.23 * Step 2 .18 G x NEG -0.23 0.17 -.10 G x COPE 0.06 0.17 .03 NEG x COPE 0.00 0.02 .00 Step 3 .18 G x NEG x COPE 0.03 0.03 .08 Variable [DELTA][R.sup.2] [DELTA] F df Using Positive Affect (POS) Step 1 .15 12.23 * (4, 289) Ethnicity G POS COPE Step 2 .01 0.61 (3, 286) G x POS G x COPE POS x COPE Step 3 .03 10.48 * (1, 285) G x POS x COPE Using Negative Affect (NEG) Step 1 .16 14.13 * (4, 289) Ethnicity G NEG COPE Step 2 .01 1.58 (3, 286) G x NEG G x COPE NEG x COPE Step 3 .00 1.00 (1, 285) G x NEG x COPE Note. N = 294. G = gender; COPE = coping. * p < .05
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|Author:||Novakovic, Alexandra; Gnilka, Philip B.|
|Publication:||Career Development Quarterly|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2015|
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