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Leaving high school: The influence and consequences for psychological well-being and career-related

Peter A. Creed, Juanita Muller & Wendy Patton
Griffith University & Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Published in 'Journal of Adolescence', 26, 295-311, 2003

This study investigated the impact on well-being and career decision-making self-efficacy (CDMSE) of adolescents leaving high school.  309 students from three Australian high schools participated in the project.  Their ages ranged between 16 and 19 years and 58% were female.  The data was collected during their final year of high school and again 9 months after they had left school.  The measures under the category of 'well-being' considered in the analyses were psychological distress, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.  Participants rated their confidence regarding career-oriented decisions using a 5-point scale from 'no confidence at all' to 'complete confidence'.  The measurement included items such as 'How confident are you that you could determine what your ideal job would be?'  High scores were indicative of more career-related confidence.  Further measures assessed participants? perceptions of being in paid employment, including commitment to their job, the benefits of employment, and the effects of financial strain on their daily life.  The students were categorised into four groups after leaving school: full-time student; full-time student plus part-time employment; full-time employed; and in the labour market but without full-time employment.

The experience of leaving school appeared to be associated with reductions in psychological distress and increases in self-esteem throughout the entire sample, however there was a trend towards a reduction in life satisfaction.  The researchers suggest that the reduced psychological distress and the boost to self-esteem may be because career decisions have been made but the experiences after school may be less satisfying for some due to the reduced availability of social networks compared with those readily on offer throughout school.  

The students who were in full-time employment 9 months after leaving high school consistently reported higher scores for life satisfaction and career decision-making self-efficacy.  They also reported more access to the latent benefits of employment, such as being able to meet a wide range of people on a daily basis and having their time filled with things to do.  Not surprisingly, they also reported less financial strain compared with those in the other three groups.  
The students who were unemployed within the labour market reported the lowest life satisfaction and career decision-making self-efficacy, the latter of which leads to reduced participation in career decision-making tasks and behaviours, such as goal setting, planning for the future, and problem solving.  The researchers suggested that those in the labour market without full-time work were disadvantaged regarding confidences such as these.  Moreover, the findings indicated that these individuals already reported lower scores for well-being and confidence whilst still at school therefore their failed attempts to find full-time employment did not appear to be the cause.  The researchers therefore emphasise the importance of intervention strategies aimed at identifying these vulnerable adolescents and improving well-being and confidence while they are still within the education system, which would inevitably help them to deal better with the transition from school into paid employment.


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