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The role of the mother-daughter relationship in Taiwanese college students' career self-efficacy.

Career self-efficacy is an individual's degree of confidence about solving issues related to future career planning; Hackett and Betz (1981), who referenced Bandura's (1977) self-efficacy theory, proposed this idea. Betz and Hackett (1997) organized 15 years of relevant literature and meta-analyses and confirmed that career self-efficacy could be used to effectively predict the selection of education and subsequent career, academic performance, and whether people adhere to their selected career choice. Hackett and Betz also stated that career self-efficacy theory could be used to explain differences between men and women in terms of their career development, given that career self-efficacy is a product of socialization and learning experiences. In the past, female career development has been suppressed and discouraged across the world, leading to low self-efficacy in women in some career fields (Betz & Hackett, 1997). In particular, one's family has been found to be the origin of individual socialization; interactions with parents are key factors for development and are one of the crucial sources that shape career self-efficacy (Ferry, Fouad, & Smith, 2000; Wolfe & Betz, 2004).

Career development theories in the 20th century have been focused on personal autonomy in making choices, and influencing factors from the environment have not been taken into account (Bluestein, 2011). The exposition of career development over the past decade has been affected by relationship contexts, and the influences of support from others for career development and self-efficacy have been emphasized. This discourse is guided by the relational approach to career development, in which the interconnectivity between the quality of interpersonal interaction and career development is confirmed (Schultheiss, 2003). Of the various supportive relationships, numerous scholars have emphasized children's relationship with their parents (Sharf, 2010). Researchers have also confirmed that of the relationship contexts that affect the career of an individual, the relationship with his/her parents is the most critical factor (Fisher & Griggs, 1995). Nauta and Kokaly (2001) and Schultheiss, Kress, Manzi, and Glasscock (2001) showed that, compared to fathers, mothers have the most influence on college students in terms of career development. In a study of Taiwanese college students, Lin (2004) also found that career self-efficacy could be most effectively predicted in those who experienced recognition and approval from interactions with their same-sex parent (i.e., father-son or mother-daughter), and who perceived themselves to be autonomous. Therefore, we believe that the career development of female college students can be better understood by exploring their relationships with their mothers, rather than with their fathers.

In the early stages, the effect of mother-daughter interaction on the career development of daughters was studied based on attachment theory. Attachment theory was first proposed by Bowlby (1988), who believed that attachment behaviors are methods of connecting and linking intimacy between infants and those who care for them. This emotional link provides infants with emotional support and a secure base that promotes autonomy and allows an individual to attain a sense of security and emotional support. The internal working model of this attachment relationship has a continuous effect on the way in which an individual views him/herself and others as s/he develops. In other words, the relationship between an individual and his/her caregivers in the infancy stage affects the future relationships between the individual (as s/he reaches late adolescence) and his/her parents and peers. Blustein, Prezioso, and Schultheiss (1995) believe a secure attachment relationship provides adolescents with emotional support, which allows them to explore themselves and their surrounding environments. This emotional connection also allows adolescents to have the confidence to be adventurous and to commit to crucial career choices.

In empirical studies Western scholars clearly indicate that a variable for psychological separation must be added to attachment relationships in order to make comprehensive predictions about the career development of adolescents and youths (Blustein, Walbridge, Friedlander, & Palladino, 1991; O'Brien, 1996; O'Brien & Fassinger, 1993). The concept of psychological separation was first derived from the theory of object relations (Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975) and that of psychoanalysis (Fromm & Funk, 1992), in which the process of psychological separation between mothers and their infants was investigated. Hoffman (1984) compared the individuation process of infants, and discovered that there are four dimensions of independence involved in the process of psychological separation in infants: 1) functional independence, or the ability to solve personal problems or not to seek parents' opinions; 2) emotional independence, or freedom from excessive need for approval, intimacy, and emotional support from parents; 3) attitudinal independence, or the development of attitudes, beliefs, and values that are different from those of their parents, and the formation of individual opinions; and 4) conflictual independence, or the ability of adolescents to break free from the guilt, anxiety, distrust, and anger they perceive during conflicts with their parents.

Scholars have differed in their opinions as to whether the attachment relationship or psychological separation has a greater influence on females' career development. For example, Lucas (1997) and O'Brien, Friedman, Tipton, and Linn (2000) found that the correlation of the psychological separation variable was less critical than that of the attachment relationship in the career self-efficacy of female students, and that the predictivity of psychological separation on career self-efficacy was insignificant. However, O'Brien (1996) found that attachment alone in the mother-daughter relationship could not predict the career self-efficacy of female students, but the psychological separation variable could. The debate over the differences in these results should consider whether respondents are in Eastern or Western societies and whether they are males or females. Because this research is focused on relationships between mothers and daughters in an Eastern culture, feminist and Eastern collectivist perspectives must be taken into consideration.

Feminist scholars have criticized conventional theories' overemphasis on the processes of separation and individualization, whilst investigations into women's wishes to retain their own identities and their relationships while engaging in self-development have been neglected. Therefore, Surrey (1991) proposed the self-in-relationship, stating that the maintenance of relationships with others is important for women; female self-identity develops within relationships, not through separation. In addition to feminist perspectives, differences between Eastern and Western cultures are also an appropriate entry point for interpreting psychological separation. Psychological separation is a product of Western culture and society, in which individual development is emphasized. However, the collectivism of Eastern culture, in which family links, interdependence, and obliging the wishes of others are stressed, consequently discourages psychological separation between children and parents. Therefore, this cultural difference must be considered when investigating mother-daughter relationships.

Alternatively, some scholars have considered that individualization must be built upon the connections of relationships (Grotevant & Cooper, 1986; Josselson, 1980). Thus, psychological separation was constructed on the foundation of the connections of attachment relationships, and the key issue lay in the balance between individuality and connectivity. In empirical studies by Li (1999) and Liu (2005), this argument was also supported. Liu found that in the context of Chinese relationships, separation and attachment were both important in mother-daughter relationships. Li discovered that to Taiwanese college students, the coexistence of intimacy and individualization was most suitable for overall psychosocial development, but intimacy was more critical than individualization.

To summarize the preceding literature, career self-efficacy is a critical concept that permits analysis of the characteristics of female careers. Empirical researchers have also stated that the mother-daughter relationship has a substantial influence on the career self-efficacy of women (Lin, 2004; O'Brien, 1996; O'Brien et al., 2000). However, there are varying opinions regarding the multiple effects of attachment and psychological separation in mother-daughter relationships; a phenomenon that is worthy of further exploration. In our analysis of the preceding literature, we found that a number of scholars believe that individuation is established on a foundation of relationship bonds. Additionally, because women value relationships and parent-child relationships are emphasized in Eastern culture, the attachment between mothers and daughters is likely to have a crucial influence on career self-efficacy. However, empirical researchers indicate that psychological separation is also crucial to adolescent and youth populations in facing future career decisions, particularly in terms of the advantages brought about by development of autonomy in enhancing self-confidence (Blustein et al., 1991; O'Brien, 1996). Therefore, we formulated the following research hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: The mother-daughter attachment relationship will be a significant predictor of the daughter's career self-efficacy.

Hypothesis 2: The mother-daughter psychological separation relationship will be a significant predictor of the daughter's career self-efficacy.



Participants were students attending general education courses at seven technical and vocational colleges in northern Taiwan. A total of 403 female students agreed to complete a written questionnaire. After removing the invalid responses, 394 valid questionnaires remained; among them, 261 questionnaires (66.2%) were from students in their junior year, and 133 questionnaires (33.8%) were from students in their senior year.


In addition to personal background variables, we also investigated psychological separation, maternal attachment, and career self-efficacy. The inventories and scales used to measure these variables are described below.

Psychological separation. To measure psychological separation, we adopted the Separation-individuation Inventory translated into Taiwanese by Wu (2004). This inventory was modified from Hoffman's (1984) Psychological Separation Inventory (PSI), in which the theories of psychoanalysis and of family systems were combined. The inventory includes four dimensions for measuring the degree of participants' independence in parent-child relationships: functional, emotional, attitudinal, and conflictual independence. To conform to the study objective of investigating mother-daughter psychological separation, "parent" in the content of this inventory was changed to "mother".

Higher scores on the inventory indicate a higher degree of psychological separation of the responding female student with her mother in that dimension. The internal consistency Cronbach's [alpha] coefficient of the overall inventory was .94; those for the four dimensions were .92, .89, .87, and .86, respectively. These results suggested that the inventory had good reliability and utility.

Maternal attachment. To measure maternal attachment, we adopted the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment translated into Taiwanese by Wu (2004). This inventory was modified from the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (IPPA) established by Armsden and Greenberg (1987), which was formulated based on the attachment theory proposed by Bowlby (1982). To conform to the study objective of investigating mother-daughter attachment, "parent" in the content of this inventory was changed to "mother". Higher scores on this inventory indicate that the respondent perceives a more secure attachment relationship with her mother. This inventory was divided into three dimensions: communication, intimacy, and trust. The internal consistency Cronbach's [alpha] coefficient of the overall inventory was .90, and those for the three dimensions were .91, .77, and .81, respectively. These results suggest that the inventory had good reliability and utility.

Career self-efficacy. To measure career self-efficacy, we adopted the short form of the Career Decision Self-efficacy Scale (CDMSE-Short Form) formulated by Betz, Klein, and Taylor (1996). The scale was composed of five dimensions: accuracy of self-appraisal, gathering of occupational information, goal selection, planning for the future, and problem-solving. Betz et al. conducted an internal reliability test on this scale, gaining Cronbach's [alpha] values for the five dimensions that ranged between .73 and .83, with that of the overall scale being .94. These results suggested that the inventory had good reliability and utility.


To verify Hypotheses 1 and 2, that is, that mother-daughter attachment relationships and psychological separation relationships can predict career self-efficacy, we employed hierarchical regression analysis to establish different levels for these two variables to determine their predictive performance. According to the literature, psychological separation is established on a foundation of secure attachment relationships (Bandura, 1977). Therefore, we only considered the mother-daughter attachment relationship variable in the first level of the regression analysis. After we controlled for the mother-daughter attachment relationship in the second level, the mother-daughter psychological separation variable was included. Based on the research hypotheses, we infer that placing only the mother-daughter attachment variable at the first hierarchical level allows us to significantly predict career self-efficacy. Additionally, the added explained variance reaches a level of significance if the mother-daughter psychological separation variable is included in the second hierarchical level, after controlling for the mother-daughter attachment relationship.

As can be seen in Table 1, our results verified the research hypotheses. The mother-daughter attachment relationship at the first level separately and significantly predicted career self-efficacy. The predictivity of the added psychological separation variable on career self-efficacy at the second level also reached significance after controlling for the mother-daughter attachment relationship. Therefore, our results indicate that both the mother-daughter attachment relationship and psychological separation can be used as significant predictors of the career self-efficacy of female students.

The results in Table 1 also show that communication in the attachment relationship is a significant predictor. Good communication between a female student and her mother allows the student to share her experiences of frustrating events, for example, for which the mother can provide timely attention, support, or suggestions. This interaction could be used to effectively predict higher career self-efficacy in female students.

Furthermore, functional independence in a positive direction and conflictual independence in a negative direction in relation to the mother-daughter psychological separation variable could also be used to significantly predict career self-efficacy, meaning that a female student who does not require assistance from her mother and who is able to manage her own personal affairs has higher career self-efficacy. However, the salient point in this study is that conflictual independence was negatively correlated with career self-efficacy in female college students, meaning that a student who feels guilt, anger, and resentment over conflicts with her mother will tend to have higher career self-efficacy compared to a student who experiences less conflict.


The outcomes from this study are different from those gained by O'Brien (1996), who found that the psychological separation variable in mother-daughter relationships alone could predict the career self-efficacy of female students, and that the attachment variable had no effect on the results. Our results confirm that the mother-daughter attachment relationship alone can effectively predict the career self-efficacy of female students which, in turn, confirms the self-in-relation theory in feminism (Surrey, 1991), in which it is stressed that the self-identity/ characteristics of females are interpersonal-oriented and formed through the connection of the self with others. Therefore, a female student who has positive communicative interactions with her mother will have higher career self-efficacy. Our results also confirm the relational approach to career development, that is, that having an interactive connection with others has a positive effect on one's career (Schultheiss, 2003). Therefore, the connection of a female student with her mother, and the support provided by the mother, would enhance the self-confidence of the student while facing career development challenges.

Our results in this study also differ from those gained by Lucas (1997) and O'Brien et al. (2000). These researchers found that psychological separation cannot be used to significantly predict the career self-efficacy of female students. However, our results indicate that in addition to the mother-daughter attachment relationship, psychological separation can also effectively predict the career self-efficacy of female students. This result is consistent with that gained by a number of scholars (see e.g., Grotevant & Cooper, 1986; Josselson, 1980; Li, 1999; Liu, 2005), who found that separation and attachment are both crucial in the process of the individual development of adolescent girls, or that psychological separation is established on the foundation of connective attachment relationships. Therefore, female students can develop individuation only if they have stable mother-daughter attachment relationships and have the confidence to face tasks in future career development.

Furthermore, similar to the results gained in this study, a number of researchers have found that as the psychological separation variable was added to the mother-daughter attachment relationship for joint prediction of career development (or self-identification), the conflictual independence of psychological separation frequently reached a significant predictive value along with attachment relationship (Blustein et al., 1991; O'Brien, 1996; Schultheiss & Blustein, 1994). However, Blustein et al. and Schultheiss and Blustein indicated that the predictive value of conflictual independence was positive; that is, a female college student who could break free from the negative emotions resulting from the conflictual relationship in the process of separating from her mother could proceed to commit to her career. However, the results gained in this study and those of O'Brien show that the predictive value of conflictual independence is negative; meaning that the guilt, anger, and resentment derived from conflicts in the separation process of a female student separating from her mother is advantageous to the student's career self-efficacy. This result suggests that the negative emotions generated during separation may make the daughters more self-reliant, and that this shaping process may stimulate enhancement of the self-efficacy of these students.

Therefore, the positive and negative forces of a strong mother-daughter connection and the tangled emotions involved in their separation could promote the career self-efficacy of female students. The effect of emotional connection between mother and daughter on the level of confidence in female students for solving future career issues has been confirmed in numerous empirical studies (see e.g., Blustein et al., 1995; O'Brien, 1996; O'Brien et al., 2000; Ryan, Solberg, & Brown, 1996). However, further investigations are required to determine the effects of the mixed emotions involved in mother-daughter separation on career self-efficacy. In Eastern collectivism in particular, familial connection and interdependence are stressed, and the development of psychological separation between children and parents is discouraged; therefore, the development of separation and individuation are constrained by culture and are more problematic. Subsequent qualitative studies with more detailed perspectives are required to explore this difficult separation process and its effect on career self-efficacy.

The result of hierarchical regression analysis indicates that the explained variance of mother-daughter attachment and psychological separation on career self-efficacy is only 6.9%; implying that the mother-daughter relationship plays a small but significant role in the degree of female college students' confidence about facing future career issues. This finding is consistent with that of Hargrove, Greagh, and Burgess (2002) regarding the effect of patterns of familial interaction on the confidence level of college students while participating in career-planning activities. Hargrove et al. also found that the explained variance is low but significant.

In fact, based on theories of adolescent development, some scholars believe that adolescents shift the focus of their relationships from parents to peers. Felsman and Blustein (1999) found that college students who have close and intimate relationships with their peers in addition to exploring and making commitments in the attachment relationship with their mothers can also explore their surrounding environments and make commitments to their career choices, so that peers occupy a greater proportion of their relationships than do their mothers. It is yet to be determined whether this result implies that the relationship needs of female college students also expand from family to peer interaction, because the developmental tasks of college students expand to reliance upon peers for support. Thus, it is recommended that in future studies related to female careers the scope of the investigation is expanded from familial interactions to the surrounding interpersonal interactions of students with their peers.

The participants in this study were technical and vocational college students from northern Taiwan; therefore, the results of the study may not be generalizable to other regions or universities. There are differences in the family background between students from technical and vocational colleges and those of students from general universities. According to statistics from the Taiwan Integrated Postsecondary Education Database (2005), which surveyed college freshmen nationwide in 2005, 34.9% of the mothers of freshmen admitted to public universities in Taiwan have a college education or above, but only 13.6% of the mothers of freshmen in the private technical and vocational colleges have a similar level of education. Therefore, we must consider whether differences in mothers' educational backgrounds affects the mother-daughter relationship and adds difficulties to generalizing study results to students in general universities.



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Chihlee Institute of Technology


National Chiao Tung University

Ching-Hua Mao, Department of Business Administration and Graduate School of Service and Business Management, Chihlee Institute of Technology; Ying-Chu Hsu and Tzu-Wei Fang, Institute of Education, National Chiao Tung University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Ying-Chu Hsu, Institute of Education, National Chiao Tung University, 1001 University Road, Hsinchu 300, Taiwan, ROC. Email: ingju@
Table 1. Results from the Hierarchical
Regression Analysis that Predicts Career
Self-efficacy from Mother-Daughter Attachment
and Psychological Separation

                                 Model 1             Model 2

Variables                   [beta]       t       [beta]      t

Communication                .145 *    1.992     .248 **   2.872
Intimacy                     .009       .148     .083      1.286
Trust                        .049       .656     .130      1.601
Functional independence                          .209 *    2.107
Emotional independence                           .096      1.143
Attitudinal independence                        -.085      -1.023
Conflictual independence                        -.187 **   -2.718
[R.sup.2]                    .034                .069
F                           3.760 *             3.373 **
[R.sup.2] change                                 .035
F change                                        3.013 *

Note: * p < .05, ** p < .01.
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Author:Mao, Ching-Hua; Hsu, Ying-Chu; Fang, Tzu-Wei
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9TAIW
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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