Discussion: Evaluating Research Questions And Qualitative Research Designs

As you learned in previous weeks, alignment means that a research study possesses clear and logical connections among all of its various components. In addition to considering alignment, qualitative researchers must also consider the ethical implications of their design choice, including, for example, what their choice means for participant recruitment, procedures, and privacy.

For this Discussion, you will evaluate qualitative research questions in the assigned journal article (Attached)

Liu, J., McMahon, M., & Watson, M. (2015). Parental influence on child career development in mainland China: A qualitative study. The Career Development Quarterly, 63(1), 74–87. doi:10.1002/j.2161-0045.2015.00096.x

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and consider the alignment of theory, problem, purpose, research questions, and design. You will also identify the type of qualitative research design or approach the authors used and explain how it was implemented. Narrative, ethnographic, grounded theory, case study, and phenomenology are examples of types of research designs or approaches used in qualitative research.

Post a critique of the research study in which you:

  • Evaluate the research questions (The Research Questions and Hypotheses Checklist can be used as a guide to facilitate your evaluation; it is not meant to be used in a Yes/No response format in writing your Discussion post.) (ATTACHED)
  • Identify the type of qualitative research approach used and explain how the researchers implemented the design
  • Analyze alignment among the theoretical or conceptual framework, problem, purpose, research questions, and design

Be sure to support your Main Issue Post and Response Post with reference to the week’s Learning Resources and other scholarly evidence in APA Style.

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© 2015 by the National Career Development Association. All rights reserved.

Received 10/05/13 Revised 02/20/14

Accepted 03/19/14 DOI: 10.1002/j.2161-0045.2015.00096.x

Global Visions

Parental Influence on Child Career Development in Mainland China: A Qualitative Study

Jianwei Liu, Mary McMahon, and Mark Watson

Compared with adolescents and adults, there is little research that examines child career development and especially how parents might influence such development. This is especially true in Mainland China, where family life is highly valued. This study used interpretative phenomenological analysis to examine how Mainland Chinese parents influence the career development of their 5th-grade children. Six superordinate themes were identified from both the children’s and the parents’ perspectives: responding to career curiosity, influence on career gender stereotypes, emphasizing the importance of education, encouraging independent career decision making, providing opportunities for career interest development, and mothers as career role models. Suggestions are offered for future career development learning programs and research.

Keywords: middle childhood, career development, parental influence, Mainland China

Middle childhood (6 to 12 years of age; Scannapieco & Connell-Carrick, 2005) is a crucial period of lifespan career development (Super, 1990; Watson & McMahon, 2007). Children in this age span are capable of understanding the occupational world in a relatively realistic way and have begun to learn about the world of work and to develop stereo- typical career perspectives (Gottfredson, 2002; Hartung, Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2005; Watson & McMahon, 2005). Furthermore, parents play a significant role in children’s career development (Hartung et al., 2005; Watson & McMahon, 2005). Compared with people of Western cultures, Chinese people attach greater value to family by emphasizing xiao (filial piety), a core concept in Confucian culture (Fung, 2006). According to Confucianism, filial children should undertake a career that not only makes a name for themselves but also honors their families (Yang, 2012). Chinese parents have high expectations for their children, expecting sons to be dragons (i.e., powerful, super king of animals) and daughters to be phoenixes (i.e., beautiful, queen of birds; Liang, Okamoto, & Brenner, 2010). Recently, it has been found that Chinese parents are more authoritarian than their Western counterparts and that they expect their children to be obedient to them (Chuang & Gielen, 2009; Su & Hynie, 2011). The long-lasting influence of xiao, in addi-

Jianwei Liu and Mary McMahon, School of Education, University of Queensland, Bris- bane, Queensland, Australia; Mark Watson, Department of Psychology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jianwei Liu (e-mail: ashley.liujw@gmail.com).

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tion to the one-child policy in Mainland China, which makes the only child the focus of family attention (Hou & Leung, 2011), suggests that Chinese parents may be more influential in the career development of their children than their Western counterparts.

Mainland Chinese parents’ expectations play a significant role in adolescent and young adults’ career development. Mainland Chinese parents’ career expectations were found to be congruent with their high school students’ career aspirations in terms of career prestige (Hou & Leung, 2011). Mainland Chinese university students who perceived high parental expectations of their academic achievement were more likely to encounter difficulty in career decision making (Leung, Hou, Gati, & Li, 2011). Some studies have investigated Mainland Chinese parents’ expectations of their children in the elementary school years. Such expectations include enrollment at top universities and securing stable and high-status careers (Lao, 1997). Chinese parents consider boys suitable for careers in the natural sciences, engineering, and computer science, and girls suited to teaching, secretarial, and artistic careers (Li- ang et al., 2010; Liu, 2006). These studies, however, did not consider how parental expectations influence children’s career development. Few studies have examined how Mainland Chinese parents influence their children’s career development in childhood. In a qualitative study, Buz- zanell, Berkelaar and Kisselburgh (2011) found that Mainland Chinese children of 4 to 10 years of age from affluent families are socialized to the world of work mainly through their parents’ provisions of direct or indirect information and of activities for children to enjoy. The study emphasized that children play an active role in such socialization as they make sense of their life experiences. However, this study only investigated children’s perspectives.

Thus, previous studies about parental influence on career development in Mainland China have (a) targeted adolescents and young adults, (b) focused on the career expectations of parents for their children without examining the influence of these expectations, or (c) investigated parental influence on child career development from children’s perspectives only. Therefore, we sought to qualitatively investigate the following research question: How do Mainland Chinese parents influence their fifth-grade children’s career knowledge and aspirations?


Our study used interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), a qualita- tive research approach that guides research design, data collection, analysis and writing up (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). IPA is a relatively new approach that originated in psychology and has been increasingly adopted by researchers in cognate disciplines. IPA is phenomenological in that it concerns one’s lived experience, which refers to either the ev- eryday flow of unconscious experience or, more commonly, a particular experience that has major significance to an individual. In the present research, lived experience mainly refers to the influence of parents on their children’s career development. IPA is also hermeneutic in that it assumes individuals’ accounts can reflect their sense-making of their experiences, and thus researchers can access participants’ experiences through a process of interpretative activity. Such an interpretation takes

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into consideration not only what participants say but also the holistic contexts to which participants are related. Therefore, IPA can provide a relatively holistic understanding of participants’ experiences. IPA is also idiographic in that it aims to gain an in-depth understanding of participants’ experiences. Research based on IPA is characterized by small, homogeneous samples that enable an in-depth understanding, in the present research, of how Mainland Chinese parents influence their children’s career development.


IPA requires purposively selected samples to follow the qualitative paradigm in general (Smith et al., 2009) and to identify participants who are able to “illuminate” the research questions (Brocki & Wearden, 2006, p. 95). Therefore, we purposively recruited and selected children and parents who met three criteria. First, children attended a key public school. Key schools are usually characterized by more investment from government, teachers of higher quality, better equipment, and greater success in preparing students for better schools at the next educational level (Cheng, 2001). The parents of children in key schools are relatively well educated (Xu, 2009), and thus may have more to say about their children’s career development. Second, children were from Grade 5. Parents of fifth-grade children begin to take their children’s future more seriously because they are about to transition from elementary to secondary school. Third, both of the biological parents of each child (who had to be living with their child) were recruited. Research indicates that children living with both biological parents, compared with those who do not, have higher career aspirations (Cook et al., 1996). These criteria ensured the homogeneous nature of the sample.

Participants were two families who met the above criteria. One family was composed of a boy and his parents. The other family was composed of a girl and her parents. Both children were 11 years old. The children were asked to provide pseudonyms, with the girl naming herself “Tina” and the boy “Xiaoming.” The parents’ ages ranged from 37 to 42 years, with a mean age of 40.5 years. Xiaoming’s father held a master’s degree, and the other three parents all held a bachelor’s degree. All parents worked full time in professional careers. Tina’s mother was a television program producer, and her father managed a company selling television equipment. Xiaoming’s mother was a public servant in a statistics department, and his father worked in an electric power company in another city and did not spend much time with Xiaoming. Both children were the only child in their families.


Subsequent to clearance from the relevant university ethics committee, participants were recruited through a key elementary school in Beijing. The first author contacted the school principal and obtained permission to recruit participants. A teacher distributed the information package to children to give to their parents. Parents who were interested in participating contacted the researcher either by telephone or e-mail. Both children and their parents signed consent forms.

One-to-one semistructured interviews are preferred in IPA for data collection because they elicit detailed thoughts and feelings from

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participants (Smith et al., 2009). Therefore, we developed semis- tructured interview schedules based on career theory and research (e.g., Bryant, Zvonkovic, & Reynolds, 2006; Buzzanell et al., 2011; Gottfredson, 2002; Hartung et al., 2005; Hou & Leung, 2011; Li- ang et al., 2010; Watson & McMahon, 2005) related to children’s career knowledge and career aspirations and parental influence, such as parents’ careers, expectations, and gender role stereotypes. The semistructured interview schedules contained 15 open-ended questions. In addition, prior to the interviews, short demographic questionnaires were completed by the children and their parents so that we could gain background information such as gender, educa- tion level, and occupation.

The first author conducted the interviews in Chinese. The Chinese identity and language of the first author enabled her to build rapport with the participants. The children were inter- viewed separately from their parents. Fathers and mothers were interviewed individually in succession to avoid mutual influence between them. Based on agreement between the participants and the researcher, the interviews were conducted in the school either after school or on the weekend. The children’s interviews lasted approximately 30 minutes, and the parents’ interviews were ap- proximately 40 to 60 minutes in length. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Data Analysis

Following the basic principles of IPA (Smith et al., 2009), we con- ducted data analysis on one interview at a time. The first author read and reread each transcript several times and made exploratory comments in the form of notes that highlighted key words repre- senting the participants’ thoughts or some preliminary conceptual interpretation. The exploratory comments were analyzed with refer- ence to the original data to identify emergent themes. This process also involved iterative reference to the original data. The first author then identified connections between the emergent themes by ascrib- ing superordinate themes, which were identified first within families and then between families. The coauthors reviewed the exploratory comments, the themes and the superordinate themes, and the rep- resentative statements, and then provided comments and reflections on the process of analysis to ensure the first author’s interpretation closely reflected the participants’ lived experiences. The three authors resolved any differences and reached agreement on the themes and superordinate themes.

The data were analyzed in Chinese. The exploratory comments, themes and superordinate themes, and representative statements were translated using a back-translation technique. By translating concepts and categories that emerged from analysis in the source language rather than the whole transcript, the first author, who is also Chinese, could better immerse herself in the participants’ world in the iterative inter- pretative process and thus could code themes and superordinate themes that better represent the participants’ realities (Chen & Boore, 2009).

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From the perspectives of both the children and their parents, six super- ordinate themes were identified related to parental influence on child career development: responding to career curiosity, influence on career gender stereotypes, emphasizing the importance of education, encouraging independent career decision making, providing opportunities for career interest development, and mothers as career role models. In presenting these superordinate themes, the authors followed IPA guidelines of not only accounting for the data but also offering an interpretation of the data (Smith et al., 2009). Representative statements from participants are included where appropriate.

Responding to Career Curiosity Both children reported that their parents did not intentionally teach them about careers but that they themselves, out of curiosity, asked their parents for information. Tina explained that “I saw something about careers in daily life. Then I asked, ‘What is this? What is that?’ Then my parents explained to me.” This was also the case for Xiaoming: “Sometimes, out of curiosity, I don’t understand [about careers] and I asked my mom and dad. Then my mom and dad explained to me.”

All four parents similarly reported that they did not intentionally teach their children about careers but responded to their children’s curiosity. For example, Xiaoming’s father answered his son’s questions related to careers when they watched television together. Tina’s mother explained about careers when Tina came to her. As she explained, “The society you see is multilayered. If you come to ask me, I will explain to you. In relation to careers, it must be that if she was interested and came to me, I would explain to her.” According to all of the parents, the purpose of responding to their children’s career curiosities was to help them learn about society and to broaden their horizons rather than to build a foundation for their future career development. As Tina’s mother said: “I don’t care whether it is about a bowl of rice or something else [e.g., a career] . . . what I care is [that] it is something new. She must learn new things.” The parents believed that it was not necessary to intention- ally teach children about careers because children were too young to understand career-related concepts and that career learning could only benefit those who, at a young age, had determined to do certain careers.

Compared with the fathers, the mothers responded more to the chil- dren’s questions about careers. Xiaoming’s father worked in another city, returned home every 2 weeks, and had less physical access to his son. Thus, Xiaoming had more chances to ask his mother about careers. Although Tina had more physical access to her father than Xiaoming did, she sug- gested that her mother responded more to her: “Although my dad often stays at home, he talks less with me. My mom often answers my ques- tions.” This was consistent with her mother’s perceptions that she might be more influential and that Tina’s father was not a good communicator.

Influence on Career Gender Stereotypes Both children evidenced career gender role stereotyping. Xiaoming reported that girls did not suit high-risk masculine careers such as

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firefighter and police officer. Tina thought that girls were not suited to be archeologists or presenters in adventure documentaries, who have muscular bodies. Both children agreed that their parents had said noth- ing about which careers boys or girls were suited to, a point on which the parents concurred.

All parents, except Tina’s mother, suggested that there were differences in male and female careers. Tina’s mother thought women could work like men because her workload was as heavy as a man’s. The other three parents thought it was unnecessary for girls to commit to a career and make good money because they would not need to support a family, and thus girls could choose whatever careers they liked. By contrast, boys were expected to endure hardship to establish a career to earn well to support their families. Parents also gave examples of careers that they thought were not suitable for boys or girls. For example, Xiaoming’s father thought boys were not suitable for feminine career positions such as nurse and kindergarten teacher. However, despite holding such beliefs, none of the parents believed that they conveyed career gender stereotypes to their children.

Emphasizing the Importance of Education Both children believed that their parents expected them to enroll at a top university and that graduating from a university was a precondition for finding a prestigious career. Tina reported that, provided she com- pleted university study, her parents would not interfere with what she wanted to do. In addition, Tina’s mother told her that if she was not well educated, she would get a career like a street cleaner. Xiaoming’s parents directly told him about the connection between good academic performance, good universities, and good careers. Xiaoming stated:

I think, in the future, if I study well, I can go to a good junior high school, then a good senior high school, then a good university, and then I can find a good career. As long as I study well, it will be OK. . . . My family—my dad and mom and my grandpa and grandma—all said so. I also think so.

Consistent with the children’s perceptions, the parents had high edu- cational expectations for their children and had conveyed such expecta- tions to their children. Tina’s parents expected their daughter to at least obtain a bachelor’s degree, and Xiaoming’s parents expected their son to at least obtain a master’s degree. All the parents hoped that their chil- dren could go to a good university. For example, Xiaoming’s father often told his son: “I graduated from ** University [a first-class university]. The university you go to should not be worse than the one I attended.” Similar to the children’s perceptions, the parents also conveyed to their children the importance of education in pursuing a high-status career. All parents expressed their career expectations for their children to obtain high-status careers, although they used different terms such as “mental work,” “careers with good social recognition,” or “careers providing a relatively good salary.” Although the parents reported that they did not convey such specific ideas to their children, unintentionally, they did convey their expectations for their children to pursue high-status careers by emphasizing the importance of education in the pursuit of a career.

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For example, according to Tina’s father, he provided her with positive career examples to encourage her to study hard:

We occasionally talked a little bit about careers [to her]. For example, good law- yers can make good money. . . . We also talked about doctors. She said, “Wow, they are so excellent.” Then I said, “It is not enough for you to just say how excellent they are. You must do well at what you are doing [i.e., study], then you may become as excellent as them.”

Similarly, Xiaoming’s mother conveyed her expectation for her son to engage in high- rather than low-status careers, with her purpose being to encourage him to study hard: “When we drove and stopped, there were often people coming to give you small pieces of ads [i.e., advertising leaflets]. I asked him, ‘Do you like this?’ I said, ‘If you do not study hard, you will do a job like this.’” In this way, the parents conveyed to their children the concept of career status, mainly referring to the education required. High-status careers such as lawyer and doctor were portrayed as usually performed by individuals with a good educational background. On the other hand, low-status careers such as street cleaner and ads dis- tributor were portrayed as usually performed by less well-educated people.

By encouraging their children to study hard, the parents did not anticipate that their children would develop biased attitudes toward or foreclosure of certain careers as a result of their influence. Xiaoming’s mother reflected on how her son might have developed stereotyped ideas under her unintentional influence:

I think this is to educate him. I intend to educate him in a positive way, say, what is the purpose of study? This may more or less make him look down on physical labor. I think he may think people doing these jobs work very hard but get little money and only those who are not well educated do such jobs. . . . I think this may be not good.

Furthermore, Xiaoming’s mother suggested that her son had foreclosed on some careers related to physical labor: “He definitely does not want to be a street ads distributor. Whenever I said so, he became very angry.”

Encouraging Independent Career Decision Making The children had a sense that they could make their own career decisions. Tina repeatedly reported that her parents would allow her to choose a career that she wanted:

Since you have no requirement, as long as I feel happy, it is OK for me to sweep the street. Then I asked my dad. My dad said, “You can do that if you like.” My mom thinks I have grown up and can take care of my own things. They don’t have any requirement. My mom said, “Any job is OK if you want.”

Xiaoming said his father might want him to be a teacher. However, he did not consider that his father expected him to pursue this career. He explained, “My dad feels I am good at communication and so wants me to be a teacher. But I don’t want to be. My dad just has a little bit of an idea, he also agrees [for me not to be a teacher].” Xiaoming sensed respect from his father for his own career decision making.