Gender Differences in Adolescent Career Interests: A conversation with Dr. John Schulenberg

It’s time for another #MustReadMonday, and maybe it’s the new year or the abundance of snow on the ground, but we’re feeling a little nostalgic here at SRA!


So, once more we’re throwing it back all the way to the very first issue of JRA in 1991. We’re highlighting an article by Dr. John Schulenberg: Gender differences in adolescents' career interests: Beyond main effects. 

The notion of gender differences in career interests has of course changed dramatically since 1991, so we reached out to Dr. Schulenberg to ask him what he has found most interesting in the field since his article came out. Here’s what he had to say! 

It was an honor to have our paper published in the first issue of JRA way back in 1991. In my view, it made an important contribution at the time in terms of considering interactions among moderators of career interests during adolescence. It was an attempt to provide a more realistic and hopefully useful understanding of how young people make career decisions. However, I believe the field has moved far beyond what this paper represents, conceptually and methodologically

Question: What has been the most surprising to you in the field of adolescence research?
Indeed, the study of adolescence and the transition to adulthood has changed considerably over the past three decades, which is true for developmental science in general. We have become more interdisciplinary and multi-level in our research, now better at describing and explaining development at multiple levels and understanding how developmental processes and outcomes vary by culture and history. We have become much more proficient regarding research methods, sample representation, long-term longitudinal studies, and longitudinal analytic strategies that attend to heterogeneity in course and potential causal connections. The demarcation between basic and applied science is no longer an issue, and the interplay among research, intervention, and policy is now rightly assumed to be of primary importance.

Question: What questions are you most excited to get the answers to? 
As for the future, there obviously are many pressing questions that our research can address, and it is exciting to see our research taking on many of these questions. For me, one particularly important question is the extent to which adolescence and the transition to adulthood matter in the long run in terms of adult health and wellbeing. More specifically, for whom, what experiences, under what conditions, and for what adult outcomes does the second decade of life matter the most? Imagine the social policy implications. We have learned quite a bit about the importance of childhood in terms of long-term effects on adulthood, and I look forward to us expanding our knowledge about what adolescence and the transition to young adulthood can bring to our understanding of optimal long-term development.

Question: What has been the biggest game-changer for adolescence research and researchers?
Perhaps this is more my optimistic bias than a fair representation of today’s early- to mid-career scholars devoted to understanding teens and improving lives, but in this group of scholars, I am seeing far more interest and expertise in both interdisciplinary research and research aimed at understanding and solving specific problems that young people encounter. They are bringing to the forefront concerns with the developmental and health inequities that come from structural racism, poverty, and unequal opportunities. At the same time, I see this group as exceptionally savvy and successful in their research and external funding pursuits, showing remarkably high levels of productivity. I think these qualities are reflected well in SRA, which has become the professional society known for great science and social justice. I think our future looks bright.

John Schulenberg
Professor, Department of Psychology
Research Professor, Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan
Former President, Society for Research on Adolescence

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