Home > 21 (1), 5

'My mother thought upper secondary school was OK, but then my sibling said no' - Young People's Perceptions of the Involvement of Parents and Siblings in their Future Choices

by Sanna Aaltonen
Finnish Youth Research Society

Sociological Research Online, 21 (1), 5
DOI: 10.5153/sro.3850

Received: 17 Jun 2015 | Accepted: 24 Nov 2015 | Published: 28 Feb 2016


This paper seeks to contribute to the research on the role of the family in the educational decision-making of young people by highlighting two overlooked areas of study: vocational education and the role of siblings. It explores young, mainly working-class Finnish 15- to 17-year-olds' future expectations and decision-making processes concerning the choice between the academic and vocational tracks by drawing on interviews with the young participants of targeted support programmes and their parents. The aim of the paper is to shed light both on how parents try to influence their children's post-school choices and on young people's perceptions of the influence that parents and older brothers and sisters had on their aspirations towards vocational education. The paper demonstrates how horizons for action and educational choices are influenced by family traditions and advice, but that the pieces of advice dispensed by parents and siblings are not necessarily in congruence with each other. The familial suggestions work as a point of reference which is acknowledged and reflected on in the young people's process of mapping and recognising their own preferences. The paper suggests that while the goals of parents and older siblings would not necessarily be upward mobility, but rather to help young people to make a decent choice within a sector corresponding to their own, it is important to acknowledge their influence as a resource valued by many young people.

Keywords: Educational Choice, Family, Future, Parents, Siblings, Young People


1.1 Familial influence on decision-making about education is a feature of intergenerational class reproduction since education is traditionally regarded as one of the keys to horizontal and upward mobility (e.g. Crompton 2006). Survey-based studies demonstrate how family background remains significant for aims and choices in regard to education (e.g. Erola 2010; Irwin 2009; Myrskylä 2009), while micro-level studies relying on the qualitative approach substantiate how economic and cultural practices and motivations contribute to intergenerational transmission. In particular, the middle-class style of parenting or 'concerted cultivation' (Lareau 2003), the sense of urgency and responsibility felt by middle-class parents concerning the development of their children, is well documented by earlier studies (e.g. Devine 2004; Vincent and Ball 2007; Vincent et al. 2012). Working-class parents, in turn, are identified as being 'much less likely to see their children as a project for development' (Vincent and Ball 2007, 1068) and working-class parenting is argued to consist of supporting spontaneous development with less cultural knowledge and skills to pass on to children (Lareau 2003; Napolitano et al. 2014; Vincent and Ball 2007). This paper aims to contribute to this body of work through examining what kind of knowledge and educational perspectives are passed on to 15- to 17-year-old young people in working-class families.

1.2 The discussion draws on interviews with Finnish young people making the transition from compulsory education to their post-school lives, and interviews with their working-class parents, thereby aiming at shedding light both on how parents try to influence their children's choices and on how children weigh the usefulness of their parents' advice. Here the focus is extended from parent-child relations to the siblings of the interviewees, and young people's perceptions of the influence that older brothers and sisters had on their post-school choices and their horizons for action. In this way, the familial influence is understood in broader terms than just parental support or involvement as it also refers to siblings as a source of knowledge and experience.

1.3 The principal routes on offer to Finnish ninth graders about to complete their compulsory education are either to apply to general upper secondary school, which leads to the possibility to enter polytechnic or university, namely the academic route, or to apply for vocational upper secondary education, which provides full competence for many occupations, namely the vocational route.[1] In addition to being ninth graders, another factor defines the young people discussed in this paper. The interviews were conducted among young people who were participating in targeted services providing support to enable them to complete comprehensive school and to prevent their marginalisation. Thus, the emphasis here is on the decision-making processes of girls and boys who were on the margins of education, who were weighing the pros and cons not only of academic and non-academic educational trajectories but also of leaving school, and whose choices pointed in directions other than higher education – vocational training in particular.

1.4 Consequently, the paper aims to make visible the range of possible post-school futures and to shed light on familial support and non-academic choices that have garnered much less attention in previous studies than academic routes (see also Aaltonen & Karvonen 2015). This standpoint is elaborated in the next section followed by a brief outline of the study. The evidence drawing on the qualitative material demonstrates that the imagined routes are classed and that parents and older siblings serve as vital sources of information, material support and habitual examples of adulthood for the young people. Further, the paper suggests that while the goals of parents and older siblings would not necessarily be upward mobility, but rather to help young people to make a decent choice within a sector corresponding to their own, it is important to acknowledge their influence as a resource valued by many young people.

Educational decision-making and family context

2.1 Debates about educational transitions and decision-making within youth studies have questioned the ideals of linearity and individual choice (e.g. Pless 2013; te Riele 2004; Tolonen 2008) and highlighted the diversity of young people by utilising such notions as 'choice' and 'normal' biographies (du Bois-Reymond 1998). There is an abundance of empirical literature illustrating the prevalence of individualised rhetoric among young people, as well as indicating the structured nature of educational choices, enabled and restricted by various social, cultural and material resources (e.g. Furlong and Cartmel 2007; Thomson et al. 2003). The model of career decision-making or careership, developed by Hodkinson and Sparkes (1997), aims to take both individualist and structuralist approaches into account and can be applied to comprehend educational decision-making as well. According to this model, inspired by the work of Bourdieu, decision-making has three integrated dimensions: it is firstly pragmatic, located in the 'habitus'; secondly, it takes place in interaction with others in the 'field'; and thirdly, it is influenced by both turning points and routines. For the purposes of this paper, I will concentrate primarily on the first dimension of the model, namely the ways in which family members, as trusted others, influence the horizons for action, and the scope of decisions that are seen as being available and regarded as appropriate by the young people (Hodkinson & Sparkes 1997).

2.2 The types and intensity of familial involvement in relation to educational decision-making are predominantly studied by looking at parents' ability to support the higher education choices and academic motivation of their offspring (e.g. Brooks 2003, 2004;Irwin 2009). The lack of interest in vocational studies may reflect the low status or even the low quality of vocational training in certain countries, but it can also be argued to convey values in accordance with middle-class ideals of success and the good life (see also Aaltonen & Karvonen 2015). Vocational education is often largely portrayed as something that young working-class people 'choose' merely because they are oppressed by social structures or because they lack proper parental guidance. While it is imperative for sociologists to address the class-based inequalities that shape young people's orientations and prospects, imagining a working-class future for oneself does not necessarily equate with a deprived trajectory. However, although we would accept the truism that all parents wish their children to do well, it is important to acknowledge that there are different understandings among parents and their children as to what is regarded as success and as constituting the best for them (see McLeod 2007; McLeod and Wright 2009; Tolonen 2008). As Irwin and Elley (2012, 18) demonstrate in their study on parents' hopes for their children's future occupation, all parents hope their children will do well, but aspirations and interactions with children are, indeed, 'embedded within, and shaped by, classed context'. Climbing the social ladder at least via higher education is not necessarily the primary goal of all parents, but the desired ascent might be just a step, from an unskilled worker to a skilled one (ibid.). In this paper a contribution will be made to the literature where the views of young people are counterpointed by the views of their parents, and particularly to the research on the perceptions that children and young people have about the meaning of family contexts, support and relationships (e.g. Brooks 2004; Gillies et al. 2000; Irwin 2009; Jones et al. 2004; Lahelma and Gordon 2008; Turtiainen et al. 2007).

2.3 While parental influence and perceived support have been addressed in previous studies, the significance of siblings is a less researched topic (see e.g. Gillies and Lucey 2006, however). If parents aim to mobilise material and cultural resources to influence the future choices of their children, siblings are rarely expected to participate in that kind of project, at least not in the industrialised countries. On the contrary, siblings have been seen as competing with each other for scarce resources, time and attention (e.g. Coles 2006, ref. Heath et al. 2010). However, siblings are commonly reported as being a source of intimacy, support and protection (Edwards et al. 2005; Gillies and Lucey 2006). By the same token, they may have a positive impact on young people's educational decision-making (Heath et al. 2010) and they may offer material support, particularly when it comes to compensating for insufficient intergenerational support (Bertaux-Wiame 1993/2005). Edwards et al. (2005) further state that relationships between siblings are a site of gendered social learning. Accordingly, 'talking together constitutes a crucial aspect of girls' connection to their sisters. For boys, undertaking activities together was an important aspect of connection to their brothers' (ibid. 511-512). These ways of connecting with and learning from siblings have implications for educational decision-making as well.


3.1 This paper draws on two consecutive, interrelated research projects.[2] In these projects, the aim was to study the transitions of young people in less privileged positions, as well as the ways in which young people understand and draw upon the resources available to them in planning their future. The data were produced during the course of two programmes intended to support young people, called My Own Career (Omaura in Finnish, hereafter MOC) and Pilot (Luotsi in Finnish), both based in Helsinki. Pilot provided individual support for young people, with the aim of having a positive impact on both the young peoples' lives and their family life during their free time. MO was an alternative way of completing comprehensive school; with its emphasis on working life, it was intended for young people who were in danger of leaving school without any qualifications. Both the programmes had strong educational and socialisation goals based on implicit views regarding the concept of an ideal citizen (see Coussée et al., 2009) and thus the importance of further education (mainly in the vocational sector) and realistic career plans were emphasised and supported within the programmes (see Aaltonen 2012). Thirty-two young people, 16 girls and 16 boys, all 15 to 17 years of age and ninth graders, were interviewed during autumn 2008. The interviews were semi-structured and biographical in the sense that the young people were invited to describe the biographical paths that had led them to their present position, as well as to explore their ideas about the future.

3.2 The data production included a cross-generational dimension and an attempt to track the young people for a follow-up interview. A total of 15 parents, mostly mothers, were interviewed during spring 2009. These interviews were partly biographical but mainly focused on issues of parenting and the future aspirations of the child. Thirteen follow-up interviews were conducted with the young people a year after the first interview in autumn 2009. The young people and their parents were able to speak for themselves, but the influence of siblings was gauged via second-hand information, related as perceived mainly by the young people. Ten girls and 11 boys, namely a total of 21 out of 32 interviewees mentioned having an older sibling or a half-sibling. The influence between siblings does not only flow downwards from older brothers and sisters to younger ones (Heath et al. 2010), but here I will concentrate on how the young people perceived the impact of their older siblings on their choices.

3.3 The majority of the young interviewees came from white working-class families, but there were also those with a middle-class background, as well as seven informants with either one or both parents with an immigrant background and even some with personal experience of migration. Positioning the families as either working or middle class was based on the information the interviewees revealed about the education (vocational/academic) and occupation (manual/non-manual) of their parents. On the basis of this partial information, most of the parents had a vocational qualification and some had obtained vocational training only as an adult. All were living in Helsinki and although they predominantly came from less affluent neighbourhoods, none of these areas could be characterised as excluded or deprived in the same sense as some British cities, for example (e.g. MacDonald et al. 2005).

3.4 Eight of the young people lived in a nuclear family together with both biological parents, 12 with their single-parent mother, 8 in a reconstituted family and 4 in a foster or residential care home. All 23 young people who participated in [YY] and some of the [XX] youngsters shared a history of fragmented school careers and unbridgeable conflicts in their previous schools. Another commonality was that all bar one envisaged a future in vocational education or an apprenticeship and in a working-class occupation.

3.5 The interviews of both the young people and their parents were analysed using thematic analysis, by pinpointing and examining the accounts in which either parents or children referred to mutual interaction or to interaction with siblings related to schooling or future plans. Although this paper only provides the scope to draw on the analysis of the first interviews with the young people, the follow-up interviews are referred to occasionally. Further, the extracts where the young people commented on their studies, career or the lifestyle of parents or older siblings were included in the analysis. Some of these accounts, like all those referring to siblings, were unprompted while others were the result of probing questions such as: 'Have either or both of your parents expressed any suggestions, hopes or warnings concerning your future education or occupation?'.[3]

3.6 In the analysis that follows, I first provide a brief overview of the imagined educational routes of the young people and illustrate how they are shaped by gendered and classed divisions within the educational field. In order to illustrate the intimate network in which imagining feasible futures or horizons for action and the formation of aspirations and practices takes place, I will then focus on young person-parent and young person-sibling relations and their distinctive features. In the final concluding section, the advice and influences arising from these two kinds of relations are contrasted with each other. Although the paper draws on data produced in particular programmes, I would argue that what could be defined as particular was the concern and the measures rather than the young people or their parents. Thus, the findings apply to a wider group, particularly families with a working-class background and young people imagining a working-class career for themselves.

Classed and gendered division on imagined educational routes

4.1 Many young people in the study reacted to questions on parental influence by insisting that they make the decisions concerning their future education and career independently and do not accept any dictates from their parents. As one of the girls stated in response to a question on whether other people influence her future: 'I choose my own future'. If parents were suspected of being, or perceived to be, over-intrusive, their involvement was either blocked by refusing to listen to them or by letting their ideas go in one ear and out the other: 'My mother has made all kinds of suggestions … all the professions under the sun'. Nonetheless, older siblings and especially parents and their thoughts were frequently mentioned and referred to in relation to further studies and future occupations (see also Green and White 2008). Furthermore, choices that were claimed to be made individually in one sense did not necessarily appear individualistic in another sense. On the contrary, feasible fields of study or professions mentioned by the young people were for the most part relatively traditional choices in terms of social class origin and gender.

4.2 The young people interviewed, with the exception of one, were planning to apply to a vocational school and thus anticipated a working-class career for themselves. Although they were convinced that choosing the vocational track was the best alternative for them, they still deliberated over their choice at length and in detail, particularly the non-choice of the academic track. They portrayed the vocational track as a rational choice, made by people who, on the one hand, are not bookish enough but who, on the other hand, know what they want and are oriented towards doing something 'with their hands'. In their opinion, three years in general upper secondary school would not lead them anywhere but where they were right now, namely having to make a decision about further studies (see also Aaltonen 2013). Their line of reasoning can be read as recognition of how they are socially positioned (Skeggs 1997). It could be interpreted as a way to talk back, to challenge the common belief that the non-academic track and the people who choose it are somehow inferior compared to those on the academic track. In fact, this point of view was articulated by the only interviewee who was heading to general upper secondary school: 'If you are smart enough for general upper secondary school, it is stupid to confine yourself to vocational education'.

4.3 The boys were oriented towards technology and automotive occupations (automotive and transport engineering; construction; mechanical, metal and energy engineering; mechanic work; plumbing), business information technology, catering, logistics, or fire-fighting. The girls, in turn, were interested in professions within business and administration, caring occupations (practical nurse; midwife; youth worker), the beauty (hairdresser; beautician) and media industries (media assistant), or within the service sector (catering; hotel receptionist; tour guide). Three girls mentioned possible occupations for themselves that can be regarded as clearly atypical choices: builder, painter, and guard. Additionally, two girls mentioned being interested in signing up for military service, which is mandatory for Finnish boys (a civic duty) and voluntary for girls. As previous studies have suggested, it may be easier for girls to deviate from the gendered pathway (e.g. Lappalainen et al. 2012).

4.4 In the light of educational discourses emphasizing individuality (see e.g. Gordon et al. 2000; Stokes 2012) where young people are persuaded to believe they are able to make individualised choices and choose among various options, the expectations of the young people in the study may seem predictable and commonplace. If one has the freedom to make a choice, why choose the beaten path? To understand these classed and gendered patterns, one can look for possible explanations in the young people's life history, in the ways in which they are positioned in the school context, and in the rigid educational structures within which the choices are made. Following the thinking of Hodkinson and Sparkes (1997), the educational system represents the field where young people navigate with the help of the resources and social capital they have managed to accumulate during their school career. Young people who are undergoing negative experiences at school may seek the shortest route to working life, to more practically oriented vocational education, as opposed to the academic route requiring a longer time in formal education (cf. Aaltonen 2012; Smyth and Hattam 2004). Educational and vocational guidance has also been claimed to contribute to producing gendered and classed working-class young people in particular, instead of 'challenging' them to choose 'differently' (Lappalainen et al. 2012). Further, being identified as 'at risk' means that one is guided to solidify future plans more intensively than many of one's peers and to make a 'safe bet' that aims at a solid, unambiguous profession (see Beck et al. 2006; Määttä & Aaltonen 2015). It is also important to acknowledge how the academic-vocational dichotomy not only structures the governance and organisation of upper secondary education, but also limits the imagination of young people when it comes to feasible futures, educational trajectories and their understanding of themselves as either bookish or practical-minded (Ball et al. 2000; Lahelma 2009; Smyth and Hattam 2004).

4.5 Claiming that young people are governed to make classed and gendered choices by formal institutions is insufficient for understanding such choices because the governmentality perspective tends to override young people's standpoints. However, it would also be reductive to take the highly individualistic rhetoric of young people at face value. Rather, I prefer to focus on the family as an institution and an intimate network, as well as the ways in which young people reflect on the comments and suggestions made by their family members concerning their future education and profession.

Parents – 'Just do something that is important to you'

5.1 Parental comments such as 'Just do what you feel is best' were mentioned by both the young people and their parents, and following Lareau (2003) can be read as parents' attempts to support the natural and spontaneous growth of their children. From the children's point of view, they were also interpreted as emotional support and as 'being on my side' (Aaltonen 2013). However, there were several examples of attempts at active parental involvement in the educational choices of the young people at the very least by making suggestions: a mother described how she had suggested some 'cleaner' courses of study for her son but accepted that he had made the decision to apply for a place on the automotive technology course. Although at the time of the interviews the parents appeared to be diplomatic, part of this diplomacy can be argued as having developed over time and out of necessity. Some young interviewees said that their parents had initially opposed their suggestions, but had later relented and supported them in making their own choices. Examples of this were the reported discussions with parents concerning vocational and academic tracks that were presented by the young people as manifestations of independence. The only interviewee heading for general upper secondary school presented their parental wishes as habitual truisms and the upper secondary school option as automatically more desirable from the parents' point of view: 'Usually parents are like that: upper secondary school, yay!'. Some of the young people referred to the existence of overambitious (well-off) parents who force their children to opt for the academic track and endeavour to cultivate their children's skills without listening to them (cf. Jones et al. 2004; Lareau 2003), but this allusion had also been a reality for one of the girls, who stated:

GIRL: I remember when I was in primary school and my father said: 'You will go to upper secondary school, you will go to upper secondary school'. But now he has relented and says just do something that is important to you as long as you think it is your thing and appeals to you. My mother thinks the same way, but she has never forced the idea of upper secondary school on me because she didn't go there herself. Neither did my father, but that is the very reason why he wants me to go there.

5.2 An interview with the father clarified the apparent contradiction about graduating from upper secondary school: the father had started going there but dropped out. Thus, parental recommendations and expectations concerning studies in upper secondary school did not seem to be solely tied to the parent's own educational performance, although this was a common explanation: 'They haven't been there so they don't expect me to go there either'. Parental expectations can also be rationalised by their personal history of missed opportunities, not to mention the desire for upward mobility and enhanced opportunities in the post-industrial labour market. Moreover, parents who themselves had graduated from upper secondary school and who suggested this option were forced to accept their children choosing differently: 'My mother knows that it wouldn't pay off for me to go to upper secondary school because I have difficulties in maths, and I don't even want to go to there and she is totally okay with that'. Some parents, indeed, emphasised that they did not pressure their children into going there, but insisted that it was the child who had to make the decision. Rather than pushing young people towards upper secondary school, a more common response from the parents was to urge them to carefully consider whether, after having struggled in comprehensive school, they would be able to sustain their interest for the three years that it takes to graduate from upper secondary school.

5.3 In addition to the choice between the academic and non-academic tracks, a third option presented itself: a 'gap year'. In the Finnish context the term 'gap year' usually refers to a year between secondary education and higher education that young people spend working or travelling. The expression thus holds the promise of continuing to educate oneself beyond general education towards a profession. However, in the case of the young people who had experienced difficulties in coping with their basic education, the gap year was met with doubt by some of the students as well as by their parents, who felt that the gap may grow too wide for them to ever catch up. One of the boys who was living in a residential care home considered the option of a gap year as desirable in order to 'relax'. His mother, who had gained a vocational qualification as an adult strongly disapproved of this idea:

MOTHER: He thought that he would take a gap year. (…) I have made my views clear: gap year, no way, it's ridiculous! He hasn't done anything. A gap year for graduating from comprehensive school, if he even manages to do that? (…) We have agreed that he will apply for a vocational training place, but he will postpone it for a year. (…) He's going to attend workshop activities for a year.

5.4 The means at the disposal of parents to influence the decisions of their children were limited, as could be seen in the follow-up interview with the boy mentioned above. He had applied for a vocational training place with no intention of starting to study. He was not accepted onto the workshop activities course, and was instead a somewhat reluctant target of different kinds of activating measures by the employment services (Aaltonen & Lappalainen 2013).

5.5 Regarding the choice of the field of study in vocational education, parents reportedly made suggestions on the basis of their understanding of what the young person would have an aptitude for, or on the basis of what a respected and well-paid profession would be. These professions included lawyer, accountant, electrician or plumber, the last two of which are considered to be respected and relatively well-paid branches in the manual building trade. A few of the parents interviewed had attained a degree in adulthood, and were consequently informed when it came to upper secondary studies. However, in general, the parents' knowledge was outdated and limited in relation to educational practices and the range of study paths on offer. Instead, the parents appeared to be useful resources concerning labour market practices, which derived from their personal experiences of working life (see also Higgins et al. 2010).

5.6 In addition to attempts at intervention and providing advice, there was a whole range of habitual and subtle influences that were more difficult to pinpoint. A boy who had chosen to apply to a vocational institution to take a course in automotive technology emphasised his interest in technology and practically oriented work in general.

BOY: Within those fields you can do something, like work. They are not office jobs, sitting in front of a machine [computer], but you can really do something.

5.7 He was one of the many boys who was able to make a connection between an automotive career, a vocational education and a profession since he stated that: 'I have been tinkering with my moped and it occurred to me that I could apply to this technical field'. According to the interview with his mother, his automotive career was encouraged and subsidised despite scarce resources (Aaltonen 2013; Aaltonen 2012; Aaltonen & Karvonen 2015).

MOTHER: [W]hen I started at my present workplace, I spent the first month's salary, the whole of it, on buying a moped for him.

5.8 Further, some influence can be detected in comments where the young people referred to their parents' career or work in relation to their own plans. The following extract is an example of a young woman anticipating possible and agreeable similarities between her educational and professional routes and that of her father. But, by the same token, a parent's career can also serve as a warning of a future to be avoided.

GIRL: My dad has a really good job and he is in a high position but he has said that he did really badly at school. He only just got into vocational school but did well there and went straight to work after training. He has climbed his way up and is in a high position nowadays. (…) I hope that I'll get into a field of work where I have the opportunity to move up because the idea of doing the same thing for the rest of my life sounds really frustrating. So I would like to be good at my job, have lots of targets, and be promoted.

5.9 Young people may not be aware of the details of what their parents do for a living, and hence they are only in a position of imagining their own post-school future. Thus, the similarities are constructed and work more as examples of what a career might look like and what is considered to be work. Respectively, those young people who had previously lacked or continued to lack parental support due to mental health issues or alcoholism lacked appropriate scenarios for getting by and had difficulties in imagining feasible futures for themselves.

Siblings – 'I usually get pretty good advice from my brother'

6.1 If the parents strove to be diplomatic, the siblings did not necessarily feel obliged to be discreet, but appeared to be blunter in their comments. One of the boys mentioned an IT-related degree as leading to a 'top job' that would have required applying to an institute of technology which, in turn, would have meant attending general upper secondary school first. He had considered this option, but hesitated over being able to cope there. While his mother had stressed that it was his decision, his older sibling, who had no post-compulsory education, had an opinion about this plan and did not hesitate to express it.

BOY: But then my [sibling] stepped in and said 'No, you won't go [to general upper secondary school]. It's a bad decision. Like, you will never do anything with it; it's just for the sake of continuing [studies] somewhere, that's all'. And then I started thinking that I wouldn't like to put my efforts into school anymore, but to go and do something. To get a vocation.

6.2 It is noteworthy that the boy was able to paraphrase his sibling and presented the discussion as a critical moment. On the one hand, the sibling's advice could be seen as having a positive impact since it helped him to make the decision – despite the fact that the sibling did not have any first-hand experience of any kind of upper secondary education. On the other hand, it could also be interpreted as a constraint that narrowed his horizon for action and reduced his ambition (see Green and White 2008). The example also shows how the pieces of advice dispensed by parents and siblings are not necessarily in congruence with each other.

6.3 As the above example demonstrates, the information siblings provide may consist not only of praise but also of blunt criticism. The bluntness may reflect the fact that advice from siblings is considered reliable, even more reliable than that obtained from formal career services (Green and White 2008). Thus discouraging younger siblings from applying to certain places can provide just as strong an impetus as encouraging them to apply somewhere. Similar but more experienced-based accounts of general upper secondary school came to light in other interviews as well. One of the girls pondered that she 'does not have all the ingredients for upper secondary school (…) it is not my thing'. Her older sister had started studying there but dropped out having 'torn the school to pieces', which presumably confirmed the girl's decision to opt for the vocational track. Her sister had started studying to become a licensed practical nurse and spoke highly of the training, which had the effect of convincing the girl that it might be a suitable course of study for herself.

GIRL: I helped my sister to study for an exam and she had to study the bones of the human skeleton. I guess there were like 50 names in Latin. They seemed really difficult to me at first, but after I had studied them for a while I started to remember them a bit.

6.4 While parents were considered to know something about working life, older siblings were mentioned as being able to provide fresh, first-hand information on different fields of study by describing the content of the studies, showing textbooks, inviting younger siblings to visit their vocational institution or organising a study-related temping job for them. One girl, who stated that her older sister is her best friend, said that her sister's current catering course was an option for herself. The sister was portrayed as a successful student who had provided the girl with realistic information about the studies: the first year is nice, the second one is boring. Although the information on fields of study provided by siblings was relatively up-to-date and forthright, it was mainly experience-based and thus limited.

6.5 In immigrant and refugee families in particular, parents may have difficulties integrating into the labour market due to a lack of qualifications, misconceptions about their education, or racist attitudes. As a consequence, such parents may have limited resources to offer career advice, at least not deriving from their own experiences. In these kinds of situations, older siblings may become even more valuable as informants. One of the girls who had an immigrant background claimed, like the girl referred to above, that 'my sister is my best friend', and older siblings also seemed to indicate different paths that seemed viable for the girl. Her older sister had a diploma from a vocational school and they planned to set up a small business together. The sister had also taken a gap year after compulsory education and this was reportedly one option for the girl too. In this case the gap year did not represent the beginning of a 'career' as a NEET (not in education, employment or training) as some informants stated. Rather, the sister's example showed how it was possible to return to school even after dropping out for a year.

6.6 However, siblings may be presented as a role model in a wider sense too. One of the boys with a middle-class background talked a great deal about his big brother and referred to him as a close friend in whose footsteps he hoped to follow, not only in terms of education and profession, but also in terms of lifestyle. The brother served as a mentor concerning reflections on the future and on life in general. What seemed to be even more important was that the big brother had also experienced difficulties at school and in his leisure activities, but had pulled through, settled down, pursued a vocation and was leading a lifestyle that appeared attractive to the boy. Thus the brother's life course served as a reassuring example of how complicated life situations can turn out for the better.

BOY: Honestly, I'm like a copy of my older brother. He did exactly the same kind of stupid things when he was younger; he was exactly the same kind of monkey that I have been. Then at some point he realised that this had to end.
SA: When you were doing those stupid things, did he tell you that you should pull yourself together?
BOY: Just guess how many times he told me that.
SA: (laughs) But it didn't have any effect?
BOY: In the end it did. For example with fights. Nowadays I try to avoid situations like that as much as possible. Like, if somebody jumps the queue at a hot dog stand,[4] I won't punch the person right away. I might have done that earlier.

6.7 The boy was going to follow in his older brother's footsteps careerwise, but eventually changed his mind and chose a field of study more in line with his father's education. A year after the first interview, he was studying and, according to his comments, the relationship with his brother had not changed: 'I usually get pretty good advice from my brother; advice that always helps'. While young people referred to older siblings of a different sex too, here as well as in some other cases, the fact that the siblings were the same sex appeared to contribute to the ease with which they acknowledged commonalities.

Concluding thoughts

7.1 In this paper I have counterpointed young people's accounts with comments made by their parents and siblings in an attempt to provide a representation of the interactions within the family context. Selecting this focus has resulted in shedding light on only one dimension of careership, leaving aside such important sources of influence as career guidance (Hodkinson and Sparkes 1997). This can be seen as a limitation of the paper, but focusing solely on familial influence and the familial network is justified because of its particularity and intimacy compared to other relations.

7.2 I have demonstrated how working-class young people perceive familial influence and support in educational decision-making and how their horizons for action are influenced by the family. First, by habitus, namely by the social and cultural traditions of the family: traces of this subtle influence can be detected in the accounts where young people judge the trajectories of, or choices made by family members. Second, horizons for educational choices are influenced by familial discussions and direct advice, although suggestions from parents worked more as a point of reference which, albeit rejected, were acknowledged and reflected on in the young people's process of mapping and recognising their own preferences. The advice, models and examples offered by parents and siblings are not necessarily coherent packages, but inevitably fragmented and composed of bits and pieces of information that they have disclosed and the young people have taken note of. Still, as demonstrated by previous studies, familial support is valued by young people when it would appear to be supporting natural growth (Lareau 2003), refraining from meddling in decision-making, and simply 'being on my side'. However, while the familial support described in this paper appeared to be far from the 'concerted cultivation' that is arguably characteristic of middle class (Lareau 2003), it was also more than simply hoping the offspring would avoid trouble and unhappiness (McLeod 2007, 165). Both the young people and their parents provided examples of active familial interventions concerning educational choices. Thus, the parents were attentive to the educational career of their children but within the classed context where vocational education does not equate with failure.

7.3 The analysis of the interview data shows how the expectations and support of parents are shaped and evolve over time in the interactions with the young people. Attaining a degree through post-compulsory education is an explicit educational policy imperative in Finland, and one which the interviewed parents could arguably be said to be in favour of. Many of them had suggested general upper secondary school for their child at some point, but later modified their advice according to the aspirations of the young person and did their best in supporting them to make a choice within the vocational sector. Second, taking into account that many of the young people had struggled to stay motivated at school, the shared concern about potential study paths was also in the best interests of the parents as they wanted their children to make a choice of some description that would enable them to continue in formal education or with structured activities. Since many of the parents had attained a degree in post-compulsory education in adulthood, supporting their offspring in attaining a degree during the phase of life that society expects them to attain it could be understood as moving up a rung on the social ladder.

7.4 The data on siblings and their significance in educational decision-making was narrower compared to that on parents due to the research design, which took intergenerational transmission as its primary focus. Despite this limitation, the analysis provides a fruitful opportunity to examine the perceived involvement of family members from a generational perspective by paralleling how the guidance and inspiration of the previous generation, namely the parents, differs from that of the young people's own generation, namely their older siblings. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the siblings were mentioned more often in relation to post-compulsory studies, while parents were referred to in relation to working life and labour market conditions. However, comments by siblings recalled by the young people were sometimes surprising in their bluntness and effectiveness. Further, while the advice from parents tended to be pragmatic, the advice given by siblings was characterised by strong emotions. Still, it would be important to recognise the role of older siblings as potential influencers who can both discourage and encourage young people in their educational decision-making.

7.5 Parents and older siblings offer plausible and sometimes reassuring examples of which post-school path to choose, as well as scenarios of how life might proceed and sort itself out. Nonetheless, one of the drawbacks of familial advice is that it is located in the familiar (Hodkinson & Sparkes 1997, 33). Thus the advice and example provided by parents and older siblings in the light of this study are limited and bounded, based on their personal life experiences and hence often pointing towards conventional routes in terms of gender and social class (see alsoGreen and White 2008). However, by making the working-class familial interaction visible, it is possible to identify the positive influence that familial support provides, and to recognise young people's future plans as meaningful even when they do not aim for higher education.

7.6 At the end of compulsory education, young people are urged to make an informed and individual choice among various post-school options. However, the evidence shows how career decision- making in the working class context with fewer signs of concerted cultivation is informed by the sometimes contradictory influence as well as the chequered hints, assurances and advice offered by the network closest to oneself. This has implications for research: the scope of youth research could be broadened by better acknowledging the importance of the familial context in the lives and decisions of young people.


1 Both require approximately three years of full-time study. The general education matriculation examination provides eligibility for further studies in universities and polytechnics. While the vocational qualification also provides eligibility for further studies, it provides full competence for many occupations in itself. In 2013 about half of the students who completed the ninth grade at comprehensive school went on to study in general upper secondary school, while 40 per cent continued their studies in vocational upper secondary education and training (OSF 2013).

2 Feasible Futures (2008-2010); Cross-generational Relationships and Youth Transitions to Adulthood (2011-2013).

3 The question could be interpreted as conveying the middle-class ideal of parents being particularly concerned about the future of their children, but the young people were not pressured into reporting joint discussions with parents.

4 In Finland, queues at hot dog stands, particularly during the weekends and late at night after last orders, are contexts where people under the influence frequently show aggression towards each other.


AALTONEN, S. (2013) "Trying to push things through": Forms and bounds of agency in transitions of school-age young people, Journal of Youth Studies, Vol 16, No. 3, p. 375-390.

AALTONEN, S. (2012) Subjective orientations to the schooling of young people on the margins of school, Young, Vol 20, No. 3, p 219-235.

AALTONEN, S. & Karvonen, S. (2015) Floating downstream? Family background, parental support and future expectations of young people living on the margins. Sociology. Published online before print May 15, 2015, doi:10.1177/0038038515577907.

AALTONEN, S. & Lappalainen, S. (2013) Samalla viivalla? Koulutuspolulta poikenneiden nuorten resurssit ja toisen asteen koulutus [On par with each other? Young people's resources and upper secondary education], in Brunila, K., Hakala, K., Lahelma, E. & Teittinen, A. (eds.) Ammatillinen koulutus ja yhteiskunnalliset eronteot. Helsinki: Gaudeamus, p. 110-127.

BALL, S. J., Maguire, M. and Macrae, S. (2000) Choice, Pathways and Transitions Post-16. New Youth, New Economics in the Global City. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

BECK, V., Fuller, A. and Unwin, L. (2006) 'Safety in stereotypes? The impact of gender and 'race' on young people's perceptions of their post-compulsory education and labour market opportunity', British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 32, No. 5, p. 667-686.

BROOKS, R. (2003) 'Young people's Higher Education choices: the role of family and friends', British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 24, No. 3, p. 283-297.

BROOKS, R. (2004) '"My mum would be pleased as punch if I went, my dad seems more particular about it": paternal involvement in young people's higher education choices', British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 30, No. 4, p. 495-514.

COUSSÉE, F., Roets, G., and De Bie, M. (2009) 'Empowering the powerful: Challenging hidden processes of marginalization in youth work policy and practice in Belgium', Critical Social Policy, Vol. 29, No. 3, p. 421-442.

CROMPTON, R. (2006) 'Class and family', The Sociological Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, p. 658-677.

DEVINE, F. (2004) Class Practices. How Parents Help Their Children Get Good Jobs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

DU BOIS-REYMOND, M. (1998) '"I Don't Want to Commit Myself Yet": Young People's Life-concepts', Journal of Youth Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 63-79.

EDWARDS, R., Mauthner, M. and Hadfield, L. (2005) 'Children's sibling relationships and gendered practices: talk, activity and dealing with change', Gender and Education, Vol. 17, No. 5, p. 499-513.

EROLA, J. (2010) Johdanto [Introduction] in Erola, J. (ed.) Luokaton Suomi. Yhteiskuntaluokat 2000-luvun Suomessa [Classless Finland. Social classes in Finland in the 2000s], Helsinki: Gaudeamus.

FURLONG, A. and Cartmel, F. (2007) Young people and social change: New Perspectives. 2nd edition. Buckingham: Open University Press.

GILLIES, V. and Lucey, H. (2006) '"It's a connection you can't get away from": Brothers, Sisters and Social Capital', Journal of Youth Studies, Vol. 9, No. 4, p. 479-493.

GILLIES, V., Ribbens-McCarthy, J. and Holland, J. (2000) 'Being there? Young people's accounts of parental support' in Ryan, H. and Bull, J. (Eds.) Changing families, changing communities. Researching health and wellbeing among children and young people, London: Health Development Agency.

GORDON, T., Holland, J. and Lahelma, E. (2000) Making spaces: citizenship and difference in schools. Houndsmill, New York: Macmillan.

GREEN, A. E. and White, R. (2008) 'Shaped by place: young people's decisions about education, training and work', Benefits, Vol. 16, No. 3, p. 213-224.

HEATH, S., Fuller, A. and Johnston, B. (2010) 'Young people, social capital and network-based educational decision-making', British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 31, No. 4, p. 394-411.

HIGGINS, J., Nairn, K. and Sligo, J. (2010) Vocational imagination and labour market literacy: young New Zealanders making education-employment linkages, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, Vol. 62, No. 1, p. 13-25.

HODKINSON, P. and Sparkes, A. C. (1997) 'Careership: a sociological theory of career decision making', British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 18, No. 1, p. 29-44.

IRWIN, S. (2009) 'Family contexts, norms and young people's orientations: researching diversity', Journal of Youth Studies, Vol. 12, No. 4, p. 337-54.

IRWIN, S. and Elley, S. (2012) 'Parents' hopes and expectations for their children's future occupation', The Sociological Review, Vol. 61, No. 1, p. 111-130.

JONES G., A. O'Sullivan and J. Rouse (2004) '"Because It's Worth It?" Education Beliefs Among Young People and Their Parents in the United Kingdom', Youth and Society, Vol. 36, No. 2, p. 203-226.

LAHELMA, E. (2009) Dichotomized Metaphors and Young People's Educational Routes, European Educational Research Journal, Vol. 8, No. 4, p. 497-507.

LAHELMA, E. and Gordon, T. (2008) 'Resources and (In(ter))dependence: Young People's Reflections on Parents', Young, Vol. 16, No. 2, p. 209-226.

LAPPALAINEN, S., Mietola, R. and Lahelma, E. (2013) 'Gendered Divisions on Classed Routes to Vocational Education', Gender and Education, Vol. 25, No. 2, p. 189-205.

LAREAU, A. (2003) Unequal Childhoods. Class, Race, and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

MACDONALD, R., Shildrick, T., Webster, C. & Simpson, D. (2005) 'Growing Up In Poor Neighbourhoods: The Significance of Class and Place in the Extended Transition of 'Socially Excluded' Young Adults', Sociology, Vol 39, No. 5, p. 873-891.

MÄÄTTÄ, M. & Aaltonen, S. (2015, accepted for publication in International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy) Between rights and obligations - Rethinking youth participation at the margins.

MCLEOD, J. (2007) 'Generations of hope. Mothers, daughters and everyday wishes for a better life' in McLeod, J. and A.C. Allard (Eds.) Learning from the margins: young women, social exclusion and education, London: Routledge.

MCLEOD, J. and Wright, K. (2009) 'The Talking Cure in Everyday Life: Gender, Generations and Friendship', Sociology, Vol. 43. No. 1, p. 122-139.

MYRSKYLÄ, P. (2009) 'Koulutus periytyy edelleen' [Education is still inherited], Hyvinvointikatsaus, No. 1, p. 1-8.

NAPOLITANO, L., Pacholok, S. and Furstenberg, F. F. (2014) 'Educational Aspirations, Expectations, and Realities for Middle-Income Families', Journal of Family Issues, Vol 35, No. 9, p. 1200-1226.

OFFICIAL STATISTICS OF FINLAND (OSF) (2013) Entrance to education [e-publication]. ISSN=1799-4527. Helsinki: Statistics Finland [referred: 9.6.2015]. Access method: http://www.stat.fi/til/khak/2013/khak_2013_2015-02-12_tie_001_en.html.

PLESS, M. (2014) 'Stories from the margins of the educational system'. Journal of Youth Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, p. 236-251.

SKEGGS, B. (1997) Formations of Class and Gender. Becoming Respectable. London: Sage Publications.

SMYTH, J. and Hattam, R. with Cannon, J., Edwards, J., Wilson, N. and Wurst, S. (2004) 'Dropping Out', Drifting Off, Being Excluded. Becoming Somebody Without School. New York: Peter Lang.

STOKES, H. (2012) Imagining Futures: Identity narratives and the role of work, education, community and family. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

TE RIELE, K. (2004) 'Youth Transition in Australia: Challenging Assumptions of Linearity and Choice', Journal of Youth Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3, p. 243-257.

THOMSON, R., Henderson, S. and Holland, J. (2003) 'Making the Most of What You've Got? Resources, Values and Inequalities in Young Women's Transitions to Adulthood', Educational Review, Vol. 55, No. 1, p. 33-46.

TOLONEN T. (2008) 'Success, coping and social exclusion in transitions of young Finns', Journal of Youth Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 233-249.

TURTIAINEN, P., Karvonen, S. and Rahkonen, O. (2007) 'All in the Family? The Structure and Meaning of Family Life among Young People', Journal of Youth Studies, Vol. 10, No. 4, p. 477-493.

VINCENT, C. and Ball, S. J. (2007) '"Making Up' the Middle-Class Child: Families, Activities and Class Dispositions"', Sociology, Vol. 41, No. 6, p. 1061-1077.

VINCENT, S., Rollock, N., Ball, S. and Gillborn, D. (2012) 'Being strategic, being watchful, being determined: Black middle-class parents and schooling', British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, p. 337-354.