Hispanic Women in Education: Analysis of Education and Career Choices


It is common knowledge that different ethnic groups are affected differently about education and career choices not only in the United States but also the world over. In the United States, the minority groups notably Hispanic Americans and African Americans have gone through immeasurable difficulty in trying to find their identity in the educational sector as well as career choices (Harris, 2005). As a group, Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing minority groups, as well as the nation’s youngest sub-population (U.S Census Bureau, 2004-2005). This means that the numbers of Hispanic children in schools are expected to rise exponentially.

According to Suarez-Mccrink (2002), Hispanics have held their traditions so dearly that any attempt to reconcile their traditions with that of a broader community has become a daunting task, especially for the families trying to have a breakthrough in their career. Besides, the career development of Hispanics has become a salient issue in the social sciences literature because it is believed that the quality of the future U.S labor market will depend, to a great extent, on this group’s education and job skills (Johnson, 2006). Economists from the bureau of statistics noted that United States needs a highly trained and skilled labor force to bolster production and maintain its competitiveness in the international markets (U.S Census Bureau, 2004-2005).

However, compared to other industrialized nations, U.S youth rank among the lowest in terms of literacy and math and science proficiency (Rockhill, 1993; Johnson, 2006). Although this lack of educational achievement is true for all the groups, Johnson (2006) observes that it is particularly pronounced among Hispanic youth and African Americans. It is, therefore, possible to hypothesize that because Hispanics are the first growing population, their lack of educational and occupational attainment raises considerable concern.

Hispanic Educational Statistics

In a study conducted by Bez & Fitzgerald (1997), it was established that among all the freshmen, the Hispanic group tended to aspire to higher levels of education than did all freshmen from other groups in the study like the White Americans and African Americans. For example, 16% planned to study for a doctorate and 10% were considering a medical degree. Overall, these proportions were 13% and 7%, respectively. Moreover, 26% of Hispanics and 32% of all freshmen reported a baccalaureate as their highest planned degree (Bez & Fitzgerald, 1997).

In a separate study, the level of parents’ education was found to substantially affect groups of Hispanic women and that of white counterparts differently (Bandura, 1986). Substantial differences were found to exist in the level of parent’s education as reported by Hispanics and all freshmen (Bandura, 1986). For instance, about 31% of Hispanic fathers, compared to 8% overall, had less than a high school education (Bandura, 1986). In contrast, the percentages of those who had college degrees were 13% (Hispanics) and 24% (total) (Bandura, 1986). Regarding the level of education for their mothers, 29% of Hispanics and 6% of all freshmen indicated that they did not have a high school diploma (Bandura, 1986).

The lower annual parental income was found to display a significant effect on the performance of the Hispanic children than the overall average of other groups (Bez & Fitzgerald, 1997). The estimated parental income is lower among Hispanics than overall. This led to a higher group of Hispanics seeking financial aids than overall groups did. Many Hispanic students listed financing their education as the major concern (25%), compared to 14% of all freshmen. This led to about 35% of Hispanics receiving assistance through grants or scholarships; overall, the proportion was 25% (Bez & Fitzgerald, 1997). Also, Hispanics were less likely than all freshmen to rely on the relatives of savings to finance their schooling: 37% vs. 51% (Bez & Fitzgerald, 1997).

The probable career for Hispanic freshmen was more oriented towards engineering, law, and medicine (Bez & Fitzgerald, 1997). This was in contrast to the average interest of all freshmen. For instance, 9% of Hispanics planned on being physicians compared to 5% of all freshmen. Hispanics were not as likely to plan a career in elementary or secondary teaching as all freshmen: 5% vs. 9% (Bez & Fitzgerald, 1997).

Even though these statistics are not specific to Hispanic women, it is significant to note that they probably have a substantial impact on their overall education and career uptake. This is largely due to other factors such as culture, family, school environment, and individual efficacy about aspiration that tend to contribute to the overall adulthood of an individual. These factors have been elaborated by the theoretical constructs as will be elaborated below. Furthermore, historical knowledge shows that Hispanic women faced two levels of limitation; holding the tag of a woman and carrying the burden of minority Hispanics (Johnson, 2006).

Educational Progress of Hispanic Women

Presently, it is approximated that there are 20% more Hispanic women who manage to attain college degrees, as compared to their male counterparts (Harris, 2005). It has been observed that quite several Hispanic women have ascended to senior positions in both the public and the private sector more than the Hispanic male.

From the Hispanic outlook of higher education information in 2009, the majority of the recent appointments among the Hispanics were dominated by women namely: Dr. Doris Cintron (Dean of School of Education at City College of New York); Dr. Mirta Martin (Interim Dean of School of Business at Virginia State University); Kenia Davalos (Finance Instructor at University of California, LA); Sarita Brown (Winner of McGraw Price in Education, 2009), just to mention but a few (Hispanic Outlook, 2009).

Some observers have attributed this trend to be more than cultural dictation, mentioning the important role played by Hispanic women who have excelled before under tougher conditions (Harris, 2005). For instance, they highlight the available statistics, which suggest that more than 80% of teachers at the elementary and high school level are women, hence acting as a role model to many Hispanic girls (Harris, 2005). This subsequently motivates them to pursue higher academic careers more than their male counterparts, who are allegedly lured with low-status jobs at an early age.

Some observers have also highlighted that family and culture play a very important part in the overall variance between Hispanic women and men (Swail, et al., 2004; Bosco & Bianco, 2005). Bosco & Bianco (2005) say that Latino mothers are more keen and strict on their daughters’ overall growth, especially on behavioral responsibilities, more than they do on their sons. Still, some scholars and observers alike have highlighted the self-efficacy concept on the individual’s motivations and their environment (Johnson, 2006; Mccrink, 2002).

The difficulty in educational achievements and career choices has affected Hispanic women more than their male counterparts. But why have they achieved more than their men counterparts? In reality, Hispanic women, just like Africa American women, have faced difficulty in two dimensions: being a woman as well as belonging to a Hispanic minority group.

Historically, these two groups have faced more or less similar discrimination levels in America. Additionally, the traditional practices of the Hispanics have all along dictated that women’s place remain in homes, a notion that is still held dearly by some of the Hispanic families (González, 2005; Gonzales, 2008). Recently, it was very unusual to find a Hispanic woman working outside the precinct of their homes or just giving a personal opinion on matters concerning society (Gonzales, 2008). It is observable that with continuous empowerment, the trend changed progressively, and currently quite several Hispanics are taking career choices that were initially preserved for the dominant whites (Fry, 2004). However, it is critical to note that the progress is not as fast as it was expected, with many Hispanic women still shying away from taking certain career choices (Ntiri, 2001; Baez, 2004). This could be attributed to the little attention they have received in different levels of educational improvement in terms of research and development (Ntiri, 2001). That is to say, little empirical and theoretical literature is available to show that studies have been conducted that specifically address the educational and career choices of Hispanic women.

Hispanic Women and Education

Educational experience has shown that positive and negative school experiences influence people’s career and educational choices as adults and their confidence in learning. In his study of the impact of racism in 1980s racial segregation in American schools Young (1990, cited in Hearn, 1992) found out that many of the students did not have positive memories about their experience in school, particularly with a specific school teacher. According to Young, bad school experiences made people wary of returning to education, a phenomenon that affects the minority groups more than any other. Hispanic women faced a lot of pressure in trying to carry the cross of being women and being Hispanic at the same time. It, therefore, meant that for them to excel, they needed support from all directions especially from outside the immediate family to excel in school. Rockhill (1993, cited in Bez,& Fitzgerald, 1997), in her study of Hispanic women, talks of the point at which women’s literacy or language help is suddenly seen as ‘education’ by their partners; and men who have encouraged their wives to develop functional skills, enabling them to deal with household management, become alarmed and withdraw their support later.

Arbona (1990) revealed that Hispanic girls had the poorest foundation of education in terms of accomplishments of the elementary and secondary school achievements. Several studies have shown that Latinos who joined college were found to be adequately prepared unlike when they joined secondary high school. This is because the education system is designed to merge the whole group of students as one, with the grave assumption that once a student managed to go through elementary school, they would perform equally (Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004). Another study intimated that Latinos were adversely affected in their enrolled universities, which were identified to have high rates of student dropouts, hence leading to high dropouts (Boykin, 2004).

Other studies have revealed that high school curriculum; class rank (GPA), as well as test scores have a strong correlation in identifying the student’s approach to a particular career intention or ambition (Hearn, 1992; Adams, 2005). These tests normally concentrate on the students’ ability in specific subjects such as math, English, social science, and computer science (Baez, 2004). According to Baez (2004), these subjects are ‘alien’ in nature and placing Hispanic women at a disadvantage, considering their limited English language proficiency and lack of role models to boost their math proficiency.

Swail, Alberto & Chul (2004), in their empirical analysis of several types of research concerning the Latino youths and their educational progress, says that America’s ‘pyramid’ format of higher education is creating a dangerous gap between the established cultures and the minority groups. In his own words, he states, “the top of the pyramid is comfortably occupied by a few highly selective schools with, while the bottom of the pyramid is the squeezed majority with minority type of students” (p.34).

Theories of career development: an application to Hispanic women

There is a vast amount of complex empirical and theoretical literature related to careers. Two major traditions have been identified in a study of careers, the counseling psychology and organizational behavior perspectives (Arbona, 1990; Brown, 1990). Counseling psychology has emphasized the process by which people make and implement career decisions focusing on vocational outcomes from the perspective of the individual (Arbona, 1990). The organizational behavior perspective, on the other hand, has emphasized the study of the interaction between the person and the work situation, focusing on the outcomes that are of more interest to the organization than to the individual such as working climate, productivity, absenteeism, and turnover (Brown, 1990).

Career development researchers (Brown, 1990; Delgado-Gaitan, 1992; Gould, 1993) have concluded that a comprehensive theory of career development does not exist but that, instead, we have a series of ‘segmental’ theories that simply address a different aspect of the career development process that may be useful for different population and different problems. I, therefore, take this section to review some of the ‘segmental’ theories within the counseling psychology perspective and discuss how some of their constructs may be applied or expanded to examine career-related processes among Hispanic American women. I have decided to touch slightly on the Holland theory, and emphasize more on specific theoretical approaches such as super’s developmental theory and the self-efficacy theories, which seem more relevant with Hispanic women.

Holland’s Theory

Holland’s (985, cited in Brown, 1990) theory proposed that work environments and people may be classified in terms of six types based on their predominant areas of interests- realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional (RIASEC) (Brown, 1990). According to Holland, individuals tend to choose educational paths and careers that match their most salient interests (Brown, 1990). Most of the research initiatives related to this theory have mainly focused on three aspects: (i) the correspondence between personality and environmental types in different occupations; (ii) the study of definition and predictive validity of the constructs of congruency, consistency, and differentiation; and (iii) the research on assessment instruments, mainly of career interest, based on the theory (Brown, 1990; Hearn, 1992; Bez & Fitzgerald; 1997).

However, it is noted that only the last one has received considerable attention in studies related to Hispanics as a subpopulation. Bez & Fitzgerald (1997) used this theory in their study and found out that African American high school and college students’ view of the world of work is similar to the view held by the majority culture, and that the Holland scales are appropriate for assessing the career interest of these students. Other researchers with other minority groups and blue-collar workers also suggest that there is a general fit between personality and environment type among these populations which is consistent with related findings with whites and college graduates (Baez, 2004; Boykin, 2004; Ferara, 2005). It is thus possible that the theory may apply to Hispanic American women as well even though it has not been empirically tested

Super’s Development Theory

Super’s Development Theory approach attempts to explain changes in career-related behaviors and attitudes across the lifespan, emphasizing the process and the content of career decision-making (Gould, 1993). This theory seems the most researched of all the available theoretical constructs (Brown, 1990; Delgado-Gaitan, 1992; Gould, 1993 Fry, 2002). This theory may look very relevant to the study of African Hispanic American women, considering their decisions and career choices over time.

Just like the general development concept, career development is conceptualized to be a continuous undertaking that is dynamic, involves the interaction of many psychological and social factors (Fry, 2002). It is described as a series of vocational stages that entail growth, exploration, establishment, maintenance, and decline; hence providing the framework of specific career-related tasks including behaviors and attitude, to be mastered or accomplished (Fry, 2002). This theory also portrays other aspects of career development including (i) the concept of career maturity, which refers to a person’s ability to meet the demands of vocational tasks appropriate to one’s age or life situation; (ii) the implementation of the self-concept in the development of vocational identity; (iii) career patterns, or the occupational level and sequencing of jobs; and (iv) role saliency, that is, the relative importance of the worker, students, sportsman, homemaker roles for individuals (Ntiri, 2001; Fry, 2002).

Several empirical studies have alluded to this theory. In his recent studies, Ferara (2005) acknowledged that there is a significant impact of race, ethnicity, and gender in the process of career development; stating that the career path the non-white took were found to change with time as one gets to know wider concepts of available career and what they entailed. Similarly, Penley et al. (1989, cited in Hearn, 1992) found minimal difference in the reported career strategies or career expectations of Hispanic and non-Hispanic White college graduates in business. Arborna (1990) revealed more gender than ethnic differences in the career aspirations and expectations among Hispanics, African Americans, and White college students. Luzzo’s (1992, cited in Bez & Fitzgerald, 1997) study was related to super’s theory even more directly. His findings were that Hispanic women college students did not differ from their White American counterparts in career development attitudes, career decision-making skills, or vocational congruence (between assessed interests and occupational aspirations) (Bez & Fitzgerald, 1997). The saliency in the educational aspirations was revealed by Arbona (1990) who found out that Hispanic adolescents found school and career plans to be salient issues. According to this study, the authors stated that as the Hispanic youth, particularly girls talked about their current lives and reflected upon their plans for the future, they showed an awesome of the negative ways in which Hispanics are often portrayed (Arbona, 1990). However, the feelings these students expressed as regards their ethnicity and gender ranged from pride to ambivalence to detachment (Arbona, 1990). In light of these findings and the theoretical and empirical literature on ethnicity and gender identity, there is the likelihood that Hispanic women had developed a sense of ethnic and gender identity that boosted their developmental process. This could have helped them implement their self-concept in a vocational identity; the self-concepts became a task in itself that required an endless struggle. Research with African American women gives supports this proportion. For instance, Boykin (2004) found out that these women, in their capacity, did state that dealing with the implications of race in their lives became a task in itself ethnic and gender.

It is critical to find how Super’s theory can be expanded to make it more relevant and help understand the Hispanic women’s success in America despite the inherent drawbacks. In this case, I suggest that one particular way in which this theory can be expanded in line with the aforementioned is through examining the extent to which ethnic and gender identity formation becomes a developmental task in itself, which subsequently affected the process of resolving more directly about vocational tasks. According to Ferara (2005), one of the central aspects of identity development among late adolescents is the selection of occupational identity. Similarly, career development theory proposes that the crystallization of vocational plans, that is, the development of vocational identity, is facilitated by the achievement of a clear and integrated sense of self (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992; Gould, 1993).

Still, on the developmental theory, Delgado-Gaitan (1992) proposed a framework for the developmental-contextual approach to career development that attempts to conceptualize the interaction between a changing person and acting in and reacting to a changing context. This perspective relates the development process in a person within the person, which some scholars have described as an intrapsychic approach; and the relationship between people and their different contexts. In line with Bronfenbrenner (1979, cited in Bandura, 1986) who described environment to be nested, interconnected systems that vary in the degree of proximity to the environment of a person. These systems include the microsystems, which contains the developing person directly such as the family or the school; the link between various microsystems e.g. parents and teachers; context that indirectly relates to a person like parents place of employment; and the larger society that include public policy, laws and cultural values (Bandura 1986).

Family and Education

According to the contextual model of human development, many microsystems are quite relevant to adolescent’s career development: family, school, peer group, and job setting (Johnson, 2006). Of all these aspects, family and school have been identified to significantly contribute to the overall make–up of the young, progressively to adulthood (Johnson, 2006). Researchers, therefore, suggest that, to discover the entire link between family and academic and career development; one must investigate the impact of these factors on three mechanisms of occupational socialization: (i) the activities children and adolescents engage in; (ii) the quality of interpersonal relationships with the family and other social contexts such as school and work; and (iii) the roles the young ones play or are exposed to either directly or indirectly. Considering the importance of family in Hispanic culture, it is quite relevant to examine the process by which the characteristics of the family influence the educational as well as career-related behaviors of Hispanic women and adolescents. Delgado-Gaitan (1992) examined the parent-child interactions regarding school tasks in the homes of six, low-income Mexican American immigrant parents and their American-born second graders. The findings revealed that both sets of parents provided emotional and physical support for their children’s school activities by setting out a time and space for them to do their homework and either supervising that the task was completed or trying to help them with it (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992).

In other studies involving mostly low-income Hispanic first graders from immigrant families who experienced difficulty in learning to read, Baez (2004) found out that the parents’ help at home resulted in higher levels of skill acquisition and motivation in the child, which in turn influence teachers’ decisions regarding reading-group level in the school. Ferara’s (2005) study also found out that the teachers’ actions in enlisting the mother’s help in reading-related tasks appeared to be a crucial intervention in enhancing the reading skills of one student for whom the teacher had low expectations of success at the beginning of the year. Lack of similar attention, on the other hand, negatively affected another student for whom the teacher initially had high expectations of success (Ferara, 2005).

These studies clearly illustrate how the reciprocal influences between parents’ and teachers’ behaviors affect the learning process among young Hispanic children. At narrower level, the interaction between parent and their children were characterized by both support for educational attainment and inability to provide help with specific homework tasks, which clearly illustrates one-way parental education impacts children’s academic achievement. From a wider perspective, the results suggest that parents’ interaction with teachers enhanced the parent’s ability to help children learn and also influenced the children’s learning environment within the classroom, about the reading-group assignment.

Self-Efficacy Theory

The proponents of self-efficacy hold the belief that one’s expectations about his or her ability to successfully initiate and execute courses of action (Brown, 1990). The theory proposes that these beliefs determine, to a great extent, individual’s willingness to initiate specific behaviors as well as their persistence in the face of obstacles or barriers (Brown, 1990). Since there is evidence to suggest that Hispanic women are likely to encounter multiple barriers in the pursuit of their educational and occupational aspirations, it seems that the self-efficacy construct could facilitate understanding their career development process.

Fry (2002) applied self-efficacy theory to explain the gender difference in career choice. Recently, this construct has been examined about other career-related variables such as academic achievement and persistence in college majors, career decision making, and educational and career choices of high school students (Fry, 2004; Ferara, 2005). Few studies have examined academic and occupational self-efficacy in the Hispanic population. Generally, studies examining the relation of self-efficacy expectations to career choice have found that both interests and self-efficacy beliefs predict the extent of consideration of occupations and that males and females tend to express higher self-efficacy for same-gender-dominated occupations, than cross-gender-dominated occupations (Fry, 2002; Suarez-Mccrink, 2002; Fry, 2004; Ferara, 2005).

In a study on the Hispanic seasonal farmworkers, dominated by Mexican Americans, who also participated in the high school equivalency program, Suarez-Mccrink (2002) revealed that women’s willingness to consider specific occupations was related to their self-efficacy, interest, and perceived incentive satisfaction for those occupations. Based on gender, He suggests that, whereas both Hispanic men and women reported greater self-efficacy for and willingness to consider occupations dominated by their gender, women were less willing than men to consider occupations that did not gender consistent (Suarez-Mccrink, 2002).

Ntiri (2001) examined factors related to perceived career options among Native Americans, white, and Hispanic rural high school students and reported that high school students, specifically grade 6 and 11, showed greater self-efficacy for consistent occupations. The women in the study, however, reported higher self-efficacy for cross-gender occupations than men, which is consistent with the strides Hispanic women have made in their career progress.

Swail, et al. (2004) says that the application of self-efficacy theory to the content of career choice seems most relevant for students with relatively high academic achievement who can pursue post-secondary education. Several findings suggest that Hispanic students’ academic achievement may be improved by helping them gain more confidence in their abilities (Arbona, 1990; Bez & Fitzgerald, 1997; Baez, 2004). However, it is important to recognize that self-efficacy beliefs will enhance the probability of people engaging in specific activities or behaviors only if they count on the required skills and appropriate environmental support (Baez, 2004). In case there is low self-efficacy, remedial activities will be needed to enhance both self-efficacy and subsequently academic achievement (Baez, 2004). Therefore, the enhancement of self-efficacy may have been most helpful for Hispanic girls that, because of their low socio-economic background or minority status, tend to understand their abilities for desired educational and vocational goals.

Social Class and Hispanic Women

There are several pieces of evidence to suggest that social class may have a powerful impact on the formation of career-related self-efficacy. Hannah & Kahn (1989, cited in Hearn, 1992), for example, found that, whereas male and female high school students in Canada did not differ in their overall level of self-efficacy, students from low social class reported lower self-efficacy expectations than their opposite counterparts, regardless of the prestige of the occupation being considered. Delgado-Gaitan’s (1992) study also revealed that social class was a dominant predictor of occupational self-efficacy among Hispanic high school students. He.found out that, Mexican American college students reported significantly lower levels of academic expectations than their white counterparts. Furthermore, their women, whose occupational environment was confined to the precinct of the homesteads, had the lowest self-efficacy and academic ambition too (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992).


Historical trends have shown that Hispanic women have gone through various obstacles in their struggle to accomplish their academic and career goals. The kind of barriers that emanated from the society that now enjoys the fruits of their labor; from family to school to the system of education. Unlike their male counterparts, they even faced a more challenging environment in academic pursuance and career choices. Even though many observers have given several reasons why this phenomenon has occurred, academicians have constructed theories to explain more convincingly. The analysis of the theoretical constructs gives us an explanation of factors that lead to self-efficacy, credited with the success of these women, and on the other increases our knowledge on how a disadvantaged group can rise against obstacles to reach the zenith of long journeys, characteristic of academic pursuance.

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