Work, Income and Human Capital: Beliefs and

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Work, Income and Human Capital: Beliefs and Knowledge of Urban Elementary Schoolchildren Barbara J. Phipps Department of Economic Education, 202 Bailey Hall University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA This is a descriptive study of the beliefs and knowledge that eighty 8- to 11-year-old US urban school children from low- to moderate-income households hold about the economic concepts of work, income, and human capital. A structured 15-minute, oneon-one interview was used to gather data. The researcher found that by the 3rd grade, the majority of children in the sample visualise themselves in careers often requiring advanced education and training, and even the most economically disadvantaged children are optimistic about their futures. While their reasoning about the set of economic concepts was not fully developed, it could be characterised as emerging. Although most of the children did not fully understand the relationship between human capital acquisition and economic success, many showed understanding of the work-income relationship. Curricular implications for reinforcement of these concepts at the elementary school levels is discussed. Learning theorists and educational psychologists such as Ausubel (Ausubel et al., 1978) and Wittrock (1986, 1983) maintain that, to teach concepts in a meaningful way, educators must begin with an understanding of the related knowledge and beliefs which learners bring to the educational setting. This paper reports on perceptions that elementary school-aged children in an urban, inner-city school district hold regarding the economic concepts of work, income, and human capital and attempts to shed light on how these perceptions vary by demographic characteristics.

Economic Concept Formation Several researchers have studied economic thinking in young children. For example, Berti (1992), and Berti and Bombi (1988) looked at children's acquisition of the concept of profit; Schug (1983) and Schug and Birkey (1985) interviewed elementary school children to determine development of the concepts of economic wants, scarcity, opportunity cost, voluntary exchange, value of money, choice, and price; and Furth (1980) and Sutton (1962) studied development of the concepts of income, money, saving, and banking. These authors, using interview protocols to probe children's economic thinking, generally viewed economic reasoning as developing in a stage-like sequence similar to Piaget's stages of cognitive development. Schug (1987) observes, however, that these stages differ from Piaget's stages of physical concept development and that advanced reasoning emerges at different ages for different concepts. Learning theorists such as David Ausubel have questioned framing educational practices around Piaget-like stages (Ausubel et al., 1978). Ausubel bases his 1357-4019/96/03 0175-19 $10.00/0 CHILDREN'S SOCIAL AND ECONOMICS EDUCATION

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©1996 B.J. Phipps Vol. Z, No. 3, Z996


Children's Social and Economics Education

theory on the assumption that the most important variable influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ausubel contends that 'meaningful learning' occurs as the learner assimilates new ideas and information into an existing framework of knowledge and beliefs. The process of assimilation occurs, not as a result of fixed stages of cognitive development, but rather as a result of growing differentiation and integration of relevant concepts (Ausubel et al., 1978). In contrast to Piaget-based learning theory, Ausubel contends that older children are capable of more complex or abstract reasoning than younger children because they have more experience and prior learning. Because of different amounts of exposure and practice, development is uneven within and across individuals. Wittrock has built his generative learning model on this reasoning. He contends that learners are not 'passive consumers' of new information. Instead they actively construct meaning by assimilating new data into prior beliefs and knowledge, ignoring some information and attending selectively to other material (Wittrock, 1983). In Wittrock's model, previously acquired information, knowledge, and experience are critical in their influence (Wittrock, 1986). Although Schug (1987) concludes, consistent with this learning theory, that economic reasoning appears to improve gradually with age and that advanced reasoning emerges sooner about concepts that are within children's immediate experiences, researchers to date have not studied how children's life experiences might relate to their perceptions and beliefs about the economic world. Because economics involves the human quest to satisfy material wants, children bring to their formal educational settings a wealth of experience with this subject from their unique life contexts. Their understanding of many economic concepts might be expected to vary not only by age or stage of development but by background experiences and demographic factors as well. The concepts of work, human capital, and income are phenomena with which most children, even without formal economic education, have had some experience in their home environments. What young children observe about income generation by adults in their homes and families is likely to be a strongly internalised base for their knowledge and beliefs about these economic phenomena. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the knowledge and beliefs children in a US urban school system comprised primarily of low- to moderate-income households hold regarding these economic concepts. The city in which the district is located experiences the problems typical of US urban inner-cities, such as poverty, high unemployment, gang-related violence, and higher than national average school drop-out rates.

Methodology Subjects The subjects of this study were students in a US urban, ethnically diverse school district of approximately 21,000 students. In this district 52% of students are African American, 36% are Caucasian, and 10% identify themselves as Hispanic. The remaining 2% are Native Americans or Asian/Pacific Islanders. The median household income for the county in which the district is located was $29,368 in 1995. This figure is 78% of the metropolitan-wide median of $37,841

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Beliefs and Knowledge of Children


Table 1 Sample characteristics Characteristic Grade

Gender Ethnicity

Socio-economic status (SES)

Category 3rd (mean age = 8 yrs. 10 mo.) 4th (mean age = 10 yrs. 3 mo.) 5th (mean age = 11 yrs. 1 mo.) female male African-American Caucasian Hispanic Asian free-reduced lunch

N 40

Percentage 50





43 37 40 29 10 1 55

54 46 50 36 13 1 69

(Claritas Inc., 1996). Slightly more than 66% of the students in the district participate in the Federally-subsidised programme providing free or reducedprice lunches to students from qualified lower-income households. Table 1 contains a summary of the demographic characteristics of the 80 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students who make up the sample in this study. Students in the sample ranged in age from 8 years, 3 months to 11 years, 8 months at the time of the interviews. The mean age of 3rd graders was 8 years, 10 months; 4th graders averaged 10 years, 3 months; and the 5th grade mean age was 11 years, 1 month.

Data collection The principal means of data collection were structured, 15-minute interviews consisting of a set of questions relating to the students' knowledge and beliefs about the economic concepts of work, income, and human capital (Figure 1). Teachers whose classes participated in the study had enrolled in an economic education course taught by the researcher. The interviews were conducted early in the semester, before teachers began to teach economic concepts in their classrooms. Five students from each of 16 classrooms were selected at random from students who had returned a parental permission form. Prior to the interviews, the researcher asked teachers to complete a data sheet on each child asking about ethnicity, reading level, participation in free/reduced lunch programme, and participation in special education programs. In addition, the questionnaire included the request, 'Please add any comments regarding this child which you believe will help us to interpret our interaction with him/her'. Although the teachers' responses to this question should be considered subjective, they are included occasionally to add additional perspective on particular students.

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Interview Questions and Response Categories Work and Income - Child • How can children get money to buy the things they want? Anything else? Group A = No response; circular or nonsensical response Group B = Gift; asking; entitlement (allowance) Group C = Productive effort Work and Income - Adult • How do grown-ups get the money to buy things they want? Anything else? Group A = No response or concrete observations not generating real income ONLY Group B = Concrete observations AND actual, real income source Group C = Actual, real income sources ONLY Human Capital • Some people earn money by working at a job. What kind of job do you think you would like to have when you grow up? • Why would you choose that job? Response categories = Income potential Human capital Interests Role models Altruism Other • What will you have to do to be able to get a job like that? Are there any reasons why you might not be able to get the job you want? Group A = No response; circular or nonsensical reasoning Group B = Personality or behavioural factors Group C = Education/training, non-specific to job choice Group D = Education/training/skills, specific to job choice. • Some people get better jobs than other people, and make more money. Why do you think this happens? Group A = No response; circular or nonsensical reasoning Group B = Personality or behavioural factors Group C = Extensity or intensity of effort Group D = Education, training, experience

Figure 1 Interview questions and response categories

Interview protocol Two persons, a Caucasian female and an Asian male, who were not affiliated with the school district, conducted the interviews. The teachers introduced the interviewers to the class as people who were helping them to implement a new

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project that the class would soon begin. Interviews took place, one-on-one, in settings within the schools but outside the classrooms. To establish rapport, the interviewer showed the student either a mini-tape recorder or a radio headset and allowed the student to examine and 'try out' the device before the questioning began. With the child's assent, the interview was tape recorded.

Data Analysis Three experienced economic educators analysed and discussed the completed, transcribed interviews to determine systems for classifying the responses. Using the response categories indicated in Figure 1, two trained raters independently grouped each child's responses. Inter-rater reliabilities ranged between 89% and 94% for the five question sets. To gain insight into differences in responses by gender and economic status, the researcher organised responses for each question set by these variables. Participation in the free/reduced lunch programme served as a proxy variable for economic status. Response patterns in the 4th and 5th grade groups were very similar; consequently, these two grades are grouped in the analysis. Findings are presented as summaries of the classified interview data and excerpts from the interviews. To provide deeper insight into the range of students' thinking, case studies of three 3rd grade students, one 4th grader, and three 5th graders are introduced and their responses are woven throughout the narrative.

Case Studies Isaac Isaac was age 11 years, 3 months old and a 5th grader. His parents both worked at unskilled jobs. Isaac's teacher characterised him as a verbal, enthusiastic, and curious student who was a 'hard worker' but whose cognitive skills were 'below average'. The interviewer characterised him as self-confident and eager to talk. The interview transcript and the teacher's comments presented an image of a lively spirited young boy whose parents encouraged his education. It appeared that his home life provided him with a rich experiential base for the economic concepts of employment, income, and human capital. The interview with Isaac showed entrepreneurial interests and a well-developed sense of how he would satisfy his economic wants.

Sarah Sarah was 11 years, 4 months old and was also in the 5th grade. Her teacher described her as a 'good student' who was 'a little slow on comprehension skills'. She read on grade level and came from a lower-income household. She lived with her mother and grandparents, but had contact with her father. The interviewer described Sarah as attentive, giving thoughtful consideration to each question. Although Sarah gave unimaginative responses about income sources, she was exceptionally expressive on the topic of her career goals and how she might achieve them. Sarah, who wanted to be a cook and restaurant owner, might be characterised as a student with a rich imagination and budding entrepreneurial

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energy. Unlike other students in the sample, Sarah was aware of the range of resources that she would have to assemble to reach her goal.

Marco Marco, at 10 years, 5 months, was a young 5th grader. He was from a lower-income family. His teacher characterised him as reading well but 'lacking comprehension at times'. Marco also had difficulties in maths and in writing. He participated in a remedial maths programme, and according to his teacher, had improved his skills during the school year. The interviewer characterised him as active but attentive throughout the interview. His responses, although brief, were focused and indicated a well-developed sense of both income generation and human capital.

Adrienne Adrienne, at 9 years, 8 months, was a 4th grader. She was a gifted student whose father was a medical student. She read above grade level and lived with both parents. The interviewer described Adrienne as highly verbal, answering each question imaginatively and with a great deal of elaboration. Adrienne showed a remarkably developed awareness of the benefits of and means of achieving higher education.

William William was a 3rd grade student, 8 years, 9 months old. He was from a lower-income family and read on grade level. He lived with his mother and his father, a postal worker. His teacher described him as a regular school attendee who 'worked hard' and made 'good choices'. His responses were not highly elaborative but were generally typical of the 3rd graders interviewed.

Felicia Felicia was a lower-income 3rd grade student, 8 years, 7 months old who read on grade level. Her teacher described her as an 'excellent student' who attended school regularly and had a 'great attitude'. For the school year, she had set a goal to make 'excellent' grades, a goal that she had been achieving. Her interview responses indicated that Felicia was a child who seemed focused on a goal of economic success.

Shandra Shandra was also a 3rd grader from a lower-income household. She was 9 years, 3 months old. She lived with her mother, and an aunt cared for her while her mother worked. According to her teacher, Shandra had 'good attendance' and a 'good attitude toward school' and was an 'honour student' and 'student of the week' for her classroom. The interviewer described Shandra as providing very thoughtful answers to his questions, often taking a long time to consider a response. Although Shandra tended to give short, non-elaborative responses, they were generally well developed in relation to other 3rd graders.

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Income Sources Although the study focused on children's perceptions about generation of income, the more concrete term money was used synonymously in the interviews as it was believed that this term would be more readily understood in the age-group being studied. To provide insights into what the children perceived about how people generate income, interviewers asked students how both children and adults get money to buy goods and services. Responses to the question 'How can children get money to buy the things they want?' fell into one of three groups including circular or illogical responses, an expectation that children are given money as a gift or by asking for it or get it by chance, and an awareness that they can generate income from their productive efforts. Table 2 contains a summary of these responses. Table 2 How can children get money to buy the things they want? Response group

A B C Column Total

Grade Level 3rd 4th/5th N N (% of col. total) (% of col. total) 1 0 (2.5) (0.0) 14 1 (35.0) (2.5) 25 39 (62.5) (97.5) 40 40 (100.0) (100.0)

Row Total N (% of total) 1 (1.3) 15 (18.8) 64 (80.0) 80 (100.0)

Group A = No response; circular or nonsensical response. Group B = Gift; asking; entitlement (allowance); chance. Group C = Productive effort.

Although 80% of all the children expressed awareness children could earn money by productive effort, the responses of younger children were less specific and extensive than those of older children. Only seven 3rd graders gave an explanation more specific than 'work' or 'chores'. For example, Felicia stated that children could '... have allowance. They could go and cut people's lawns and walk their dogs, or they could save up their money, or they could just get some money from their dad and their mom'. In the 4th and 5th grades, all but one student gave a response indicating children could earn money from productive endeavour. Answers tended to be specific and often creative. Nearly all of the students mentioned at least one specific job or task that they could do to earn money. Adrienne expressed several ways which children could obtain money, 'Like doing chores and like you could work for a neighbour doing her yard or walking her dog or something. Or like baby sitting if you're old enough and your mom and dad will let you', and she separated pay for work from an allowance,'... and there is an allowance. That's most of what I depend on [for money. I] get my allowance'. Some mentioned the specific wage they are paid for tasks. For example, 'my mom will usually give me like 10 cents per dish for dishwashing ...' or a neighbour 'paid me 25 cents

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per half an hour to walk her dogs Several 5th grade children showed entrepreneurial interest. Isaac said, 'Me and my cousin run a car wash at his house, and we fix bikes for money, so me and him have a little business'. Although the more developed responses of the older children may have been due to transition into a higher Piaget-like stage of cognitive development, they were also conceivably a result of greater experience, consistent with Ausubel's learning theory. Adults in their households are more likely to expect older children to earn their money, and, as their world expands, they will find more uses for money income. At all ages interviewed, children were clearer and more specific about how they could get money than they were about adult means. Because children were often relating their own actual experiences, but observing adult behaviours indirectly, this finding is not surprising. Table 3 summarises responses regarding how adults get money. Table 3 How do grown-ups get the money to buy things they want? Response group

A B C Column Total

Grade Level 4th/5th 3rd N N (% of col. total) (% of col. total) 3 0 (7.5) (0.0) 11 5 (27.5) (12.5) 26 35 (65.0) (87.5) 40 40 (100.0) (100.0)

Row total N (% of total) 3 (3.8) 16 (20.0) 61 (76.3) 80 (100.0)

Group A = No response or concrete observations not generating real income ONLY. Group B = Concrete observations AND actual real income source. Group C = Actual, real income sources ONLY.

Group A responses included T don't know', as well as concrete observations of transactions not generating real income such as, 'write checks', 'go to the bank', 'get money back from returning something you bought', or 'the mailman brings it'. Although these responses seem to reflect a lack of understanding of the transactions involved in generating income, it is also possible that children giving such responses had understandings that they were unable to verbalise or might have verbalised upon further probing by the interviewer. When children gave a source of real income, such as work or an entitlement, along with a concrete observation, their understanding was categorised in Group B. That is they showed some understanding of the real sources of income, but they had not yet given up notions that money is obtained through observable, non-productive exchanges. For example, Felicia stated that adults generate income: ... from their job or they borrow some money from somebody or they just cash their check. They can get money from a bank, or they could sell something to get money, have a garage sale. They can take like some of their

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Beliefs and Knowledge of Children


clothes back and get their money back or something else that they didn't really need. In addition, Felicia indicated knowledge that wealth can be inherited when she stated, 'If their mother died, they might get her money'. Adrienne's knowledge of income sources for adults was also classified in Group B. She stated: Some adults work for it and they go to work everyday, and some people get unemployment checks, and some people do drugs and they get money from that. That's not a very good way to get money. There are different ways. If you get something back from your tax refunds or something or win the lottery, or if you buy a car you get cash back, some commercials say that. When students stated that adults get money only from employment, from a business endeavour, or from another outside source of real income, such as government transfers or child support, their responses were classified into Group C. Several students indicated awareness that people could borrow, in addition to earning money for current productive efforts. Most of these students also expressed knowledge that adults must pay back the loan from future income. Isaac offered a highly elaborative response: My mom, she works here at the school. She's one of the cafeteria ladies. When she works, she gets her paycheck and her money by serving kids their food, cleaning up the trays, and washing dishes. My teacher gets his money by making sure kids have an education, so they can go out and get a job and know what they have to know. My dad works for an ink company. He makes sure every pen that can be made ... has ink in it. He gets his paycheck for that, or he also gets some money for other work. He has to stir the barrels and stuff ... Christmas. Both my grandmas give $100 to all their kids. Another way is from their loaning my mom and dad money. We have to pay them back. We borrow money from them, and we have to pay them back. Responses about adult sources of money provide insights into how economic status related to children's views of the work-income relationship. Although there were no noticeable differences by economic status in the level of children's understanding, lower-income students were more likely to list two or more alternative ways in which adults obtain money income. Of these students, 54% compared to 27% of higher-income children, listed means such as borrowing, charity, selling things one owns, bartering, a second job, or doing odd jobs for friends or neighbours in addition to a primary job. For example, Sarah stated, "They probably have a job working at a store or nursing home or wherever it is they work. They might get a loan. A loan office or maybe a plan'. Marco stated, "They work. Like an architect or something. Some people sell little items and stuff, sell food, sell clothes, have a garage sale'. Another student responded: They work. Some of them don't have no jobs. They can get unemployment

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Children's Social and Economics Education


if they don't work. If the mama and daddy be at work, they might get a child support check or they might get a check just for working. Or they might get loan money for the mama from their daddy or from anybody else that they can. When they get the money, they can give it back to them. If they don't, they probably let them borrow no more money. Although several lower-SES children mentioned entitlements or unemployment compensation as an income source, none listed them as the only source. In summary, the data suggest that, although older children tended to understand income generation better for themselves, were more aware of specific income opportunities, and had begun to view these opportunities as existing beyond their own families, the majority of children of all ages understood that income can be generated from productive efforts. Understanding of the relationship between productive effort and income was not related to the economic status of the child's household or to gender. Unemployment and low-paying jobs, however, require more creativity in obtaining goods and services. The children in the sample from lower-income households demonstrated awareness of more alternative income sources than did the children from higher-income households.

Career Aspirations and Human Capital Career aspirations Most children in the sample were able to state what they wanted to be when they grew up and why, although more 3rd graders (18%) than 4th and 5th graders (5%) stated no preference or could not say why they would choose a certain job or career. In analysing children's career aspirations, the researcher considered human capital requirements, motivations for their choices, and gender and SES patterns in their goals. Table 4 summarises this analysis. The most frequently mentioned careers were a narrow range of professions requiring post-baccalaureate education — medical doctor, lawyer, architect, and veterinarian. Girls more often than boys expressed desires to be medical doctors. Interest in the other professions was equally divided by gender. Gender patterns surfaced among the students indicating interest in professional careers requiring baccalaureate-level training, such as teacher, nurse, and news reporter. The 11 females in this category were interested in traditionally female-dominated careers such as teacher or nurse. Gender patterns were also present among students aspiring to technical/skilled careers, typically requiring post-secondary vocational training or apprenticeship. Although this category included equal percentages of male and female students, males tended to mention male-dominated careers—mechanic, fire fighter, police officer. Females named the more typically female careers, such as legal secretary and beautician, although one girl wanted to be a 'police lady', and another was interested in becoming a postal worker. Gender divisions also were apparent in the desires of 11 boys — three African Americans, six Caucasians, two Hispanics — to be professional athletes. No girls expressed this interest. Seven students stated interest in retail or unskilled jobs, often because a parent worked in this type of employment. Other career hopes fell into the categories of the arts, business

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Table 4 Percentage distributions: reasons for occupational preferences and educational requirements by gender Educational requirements Less than high school High school Some post-high school Baccalaureate Post-baccalaureate Totals Reason Income potential Human capital Interests Role models Altruism Other Totals 2



Males (%) 9 35 24 6 26 100 16 3 58 14 14 19 124

Gender Females (%) 10 3 24 29 34 100 9 7 35 5 26 26 108

Total sample (%) 10 18 24 18 31 100 13 5 45 11 20 23 117

'Human capital = Student's skill assessment, e.g. "I'm good at drawing. Other = No reason or tautological response Totals add to > 100% because some students gave more than one reason. 3

management/ownership, and science. Males and females were equally represented in these categories with no obvious gender divisions. Besides gender patterns, the researcher analysed children's career aspirations by household economic status. Within this sample, there were no discernible economic status differences in their career interests. Responses to the question, 'Why would you choose that job?' were grouped into six categories — income potential, human capital, interests, altruism, role models, and other. The results of this analysis are also presented in Table 4. Overall, students who could state a reason for their career aspiration most frequently stated that their current interests or a desire to help people drove that preference. Girls were more strongly motivated by altruism and less by current interest than were boys. While over half of the boys stated that their interests were behind their career aspirations, income potential, role models, and altruism also motivated them. Although Issac was an example of a male who wanted to be a professional athlete, he demonstrated developed and rational thinking about this career. He was realistic about his goal and had considered alternatives: I really want to be a baseball player, no matter what, I want to try for that, that's my goal. If I'm not so good ... and they don't want me in the minors because I'm not that good, I'm going to work to go to college to be a doctor, or I might want to be a teacher ... Being a doctor, I'll help kids that are sick. Being a teacher, I could help a kid to be a doctor by teaching them. I can give some little kid a good dad.'

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Adrienne was not specific about her career goal, but expressed her general areas of interest and reasons for those interests very clearly: I think I'd like to do something with electronics. I'm mostly interested in computers and physics and things ... Because for one thing my mom ... has her bachelor's degree in philosophy and physics and she has taught me a lot about those things and it just seems neat. You can find out what to do, and how to do it, and what makes this thing happen. There's something like how do you know if you're really living or dead somewhere. Of course, I like philosophy a lot — well is this a dream or not because I could be dreaming right now, I don't know. Both Marco and Felicia provided examples of students whose career interests were motivated by income potential. Marco wanted to be an 'architect, making buildings and making houses ... Because if you get to be an architect, you'll have enough money for your family'. Although Felicia could not state a specific career interest, she aspired to 'a big job that pays lots of money for me and my family, so I could have enough money to buy what I need to buy'. A small number of children who expressed an interest in pursuing the same line of work as parents or other relatives, reported having spent time observing the adults at work or working with them. For example, Shandra stated that she wanted to work in a store as her mother does. She said: ... sometimes when mama go to work and I don't have to go to school, my auntie goes up to Eddie's [where mother works]. She takes me with her and I just look at my mama when she works. Although career interests of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders are likely to be fleeting and to change many times before adulthood, the children in the sample, regardless of their economic background, were clearly aware of career options. They were able to fantasise about themselves in specific jobs and could express reasons for their interests. On the other hand, their range of aspirations was narrow and well-represented by high-glamour professions which students may have experienced vicariously on television. These professions tended to be those requiring remarkable talents or long and costly educational investments. In addition, the interests of these students tended to exhibit fairly strong gender patterns, a finding that may at least partially reflect emerging gender identities. These gender patterns, together with the findings on the narrow range of aspirations, may suggest that, while children's career dreams should not be discouraged, educators might consider benefits in exposing students to a wider range of jobs and careers.

Human capital To learn about students' knowledge and perceptions about human capital, interviewers asked them what they would have to do to reach their career goals and what might prevent them from achieving those goals. In addition, interviewers asked children a more general question: 'Some people get better jobs than other people and make more money. Why do you think this happens?'.

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Table 5 What will you have to do to be able to get a job like that? Are there any reasons why you might not be able to get the job you want? Response Group

A B C D Column total

Grade level 3rd N (% of col. total) 11 (27.5) 11 (27.5) 16 (40.0) 2 (5.0) 40 (100.0)

4th/5th N (% of col. total) 1 (2.5) 13 (32.5) 18 (45.0) 8 (20.0) 40 (100.0)

Total sample N (% of total) 12 (15.0) 25 (31.3) 33 (41.3) 10 (12.5) 80 (100.0)

Group A = No response; circular or nonsensical reasoning. Group B = Personality or behavioral factors. Group C = Education/training, non-specific to job choice. Group D = Education/training/skills, specific to job choice.

Children's understandings about human capital were less developed than they were about work and income sources, although the older children exhibited more sophisticated awareness. Economic status or gender patterns did not appear in children's perceptions about human capital. Responses regarding what students would have to do to get their chosen jobs and what might prevent them from achieving their goals were categorised into the four groups summarised in Table 5. Group A students did not respond or expressed circular logic. Group B students offered personality or behavioural factors. For example, William suggested that he would be able to become a postal worker by being honest and being a 'good man'. He further stated that he might not reach his goal if 'I change my mind'. Students who responded that they could achieve their goals if they 'work hard' also were included in Group B. Group C students exhibited a general awareness of the role of education and training in career goal attainment. They related that they would have to acquire education or training to achieve their goals, but they were unable to be more specific about the requirements for their job choice. Responses such as 'stay in school', 'get your diploma', or 'go to college' were categorised as Group C. Felicia gave an example of this type of response when she stated that to get a good paying job she would have to 'work hard at school; try to bring my grades up better; get an education to go to college'. Rather than reflecting a real understanding of the human-capital requirements for careers, many of these responses seemed rote, as if the children had simply memorised what adults in their lives had told them about the importance of education. Isaac, who gave a more specific response, addressed the innate abilities he needed to become a baseball player, although he did not mention the practice

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Children's Social and Economics Education

that would be required to develop other skills. He stated T would have to have learning ability. I would have to have great hand-eye coordination. I'd want to have a college education, just in case I don't get the job, and I'd have good sportsmanship'. Although Adrienne's response was not specific to a particular career, she verbalised a keen awareness of the general benefits of higher education and how this education might be obtained: Like you would have to go to college and try to do the best you can and try to learn as much as you can and be on time to your classrooms and stuff like that. And it will help your parents a lot if you got a scholarship. If you've got good grades and everything, you can get a scholarship to college, and maybe you could stay there as long as you want — up to at least a master's degree. You'd probably get a pretty good chance to get a good job. Adrienne, possibly reflecting the experience of having student parents, indicated that not getting a college education would inhibit her chances of obtaining a job she liked and a good income. In addition, she tied getting a degree to being a responsible person: If I didn't work toward it, and if I didn't go to college and learn a lot of the things I want to, I won't just be able to go up to them and say 'you've got to pay me this amount of money and, if you don't, I just can't work for you'. [Instead] they'll be saying, 'well I'll pay you this much' and you'll just have to say 'well o k a y ' . . . in 2002 you'll be sitting somewhere you don't want to be sitting saying, 'God I hate this job ...', when you could have a job you wanted to go to [if you get a college education]. If they see that you have a good degree, and you've been experienced, it's like 'well this person we want to hire because this person knows what they're doing, and they're just not messing around at work, and they're not going to be late everyday. Group D replies were those in which students were able to give specific information about what they would have to do to attain their career goals and what obstacles they might confront. Marco said that to become an architect, he would have to learn his 'math real good, and your English, social studies and science stuff. You've got to get your diploma. You have to graduate from college'. He might not achieve his goal if, 'I don't get my diploma and don't graduate from college, and if I don't know my math real good'. Sarah, the budding entrepreneur, wanted to be 'a cook. Have my own restaurant because I love to cook, and I think my cooking is good'. Unlike other students in the sample, Sarah was aware of the range of resources that she would have to assemble to reach her goal. She indicated she would have to: ... keep my grades up in school and help around the house and save my money to go to college and save the rest for restaurant equipment. I'd have to have a nice restaurant, a special number of tables and seats. Adults want to have privacy and romance. And I'd probably have waiters and stuff. First I'd have to have money and then I'd have to have experience. Have to finish high school and go to college. Study cooking, and I have to know how to buy the food and have to advertise people to come to my store'.

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Beliefs and Knowledge of Children


Table 6 'Some people get better jobs than other people, and make more money. Why do you think this happens?' Response Group

A B C Column total

Grade level 3rd N (% of col. total) 20 (50.0) 19 (48.0) 1 (2.5) 40 (100.0)

4th/5th N (% of col. total) 12 (30.0) 18 (45.0) 10 (25.0) 40 (100.0)

Row total N (% of total) 32 (40.0) 37 (46.3) 11 (13.8) 80 (100.0)

Group A = No response; circular or nonsensical reasoning. Group B = Personality or behavioral factors; extensity or intensity of effort. Group C = Education, training, experience

Although few children gave Group D responses, and they are not as sophisticated as those older children or adults might be expected to give, they relate more accurately to the students' career interests than do the other children's responses. Group D responses indicate that the students have clearly given thought to attainment of their goals. The more general question concerning why some people have better jobs and make more money than others also revealed that even the 11-year-old children in the sample did not express well-developed knowledge of the more abstract relationship between human capital and economic success. The researcher classified responses into three groups (Table 6). Group A included, as previously, students who gave no response or who exhibited circular or nonsensical reasoning. Examples of these responses include 'because they have jobs, and like different jobs pay different amounts of money', some people 'just want more money than other people', and 'because the jobs are more valuable than what people would pay them'. Group B responses were those in which the student attributed economic success to personality or intrinsic characteristics such as being friendly or smarter or to extensity or intensity of effort. For example, a 3rd grader answered 'Because they're probably smarter than the other person, or they're just popular and they get their way ... Because other people work harder and it's a harder job, and some people work four jobs and some people work only morning or only afternoon ...'. William stated 'Some have got more personality than others. They might have more social skills than other people. Some might not be able to get along'. Both Felicia and Shandra attributed economic success to working harder. Sarah thought that those who achieve economic success are 'probably ... serious and work with their mind more'. Group C responses attributed economic success to human capital acquisition — education, training, or experience. Isaac represented the 25% of 5th graders

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Children's Social and Economics Education


who showed understanding of the relationship between self-investment and a productive economic role: Because some people don't believe in their-self and they think they're stupid and some people just want to skip out of school. They don't get as good of jobs as people that stay in school. My dad, he got his high school diploma, and where's he working now? The ink factory. He wanted a better job. He told me to stay in school and go to college. He don't want me to be like him. He said he's been there longer than anybody there and [still earns barely enough for his family]. Where we live, we need a little bit more for our bills, we have a phone and cable, and he don't want me to be like him. He wants me to have a great job. Although the children's knowledge about human capital requirements for specific careers increased with age, by the 5th grade most children in the sample still did not express a well-developed sense of the relationship between human capital and income. Although over 40% of the third graders and 65% of the 4th and 5th graders verbalised that staying in school is related to achieving their career goals, even the older children did not show more general, abstract awareness that education and training are forms of self-investment that affect a person's role in the economic system. This awareness may still have been far-removed from their experiences. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that these children generally viewed internal, rather than external, factors both as potential obstacles to their goal attainment and as reasons why some people are more economically successful than others.

Discussion This research focused on the base of knowledge and beliefs that US urban, inner-city schoolchildren hold regarding work, income, and human capital development. By the 3rd grade, these children, many growing up in and around unemployment and poverty, showed an emerging understanding of the workincome relationship and visualised themselves in careers which often required advanced education and training. Education as self-investment which may improve their chances of economic success is an abstract concept which was not yet fully developed in these 8- to 11-year-old students. Their awareness of the work-income relationship, together with their occupational interests, however, provides a foundation for preparing these young students for participation in the economic system. Educators in the US have given much recent attention to the economic readiness of secondary-level students through enhanced 'school-to-work' or 'technological preparation' curricula. Smith and Rojewski (1993) present a detailed overview of such programmes. In light of relatively high dropout among US urban school children, a relevant question for educators is whether programmes to reinforce the connection between education and economic success should begin earlier than the secondary level. At least two of the school-to-work programmes discussed by Smith and Rojewski — school-based enterprises/entrepreneurship and job-shadowing/mentoring — might be appropriately modified for elementary students.

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Beliefs and Knowledge of Children

School-based enterprises/entrepreneurship School-based enterprises/entrepreneurship might be introduced at the elementary level through classroom economies. In such programmes, the classroom is viewed as an economic system in which students establish classroom businesses and jobs, reinforcing their emerging knowledge that their skills and productive efforts generate income. These programmes typically have objectives related to developing children's understanding of the real-world economy and their productive roles within it. Student experiences simulate real-world successes and failures in the protective classroom environment. Importantly, classroom economies may be integrated into the basic academic disciplines, thereby providing a meaningful framework for the study of subjects such as maths, science, and language arts, as well as for the development of problem-solving and decision-making skills. 1

Mentoring/Job-Shadowing Although career interests of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders are only beginning to evolve and are likely to change many times before adulthood, the finding that many children aspire to a narrow scope of professional careers suggests benefits in exposing them to a broader range of occupational possibilities through mentoring or job-shadowing. Hutchings (1996) found that children's career identities are more strongly developed when they have spent time with an adult role model. The observation in the present study that children who report having spent time working on a job with a parent or other adult tend to express an interest in pursuing that job is consistent with Hutchings. These findings further reinforce the likely benefits of mentoring or job-shadowing, even for elementaryaged children. Shadowing experiences for pre-adolescents might initially be of relatively short duration and begin within the school. In this setting younger children have an opportunity to observe, interact with, and assist the range of workers in their buildings. Shadowing for older elementary-or middle school-aged children might be arranged to allow students to spend time with relatives, friends, or other workers in jobs outside the school. Such programmes should also afford students opportunities to observe workers in non-gender-traditional careers. Mentoring programmes might be designed to provide more intense, ongoing relationships, particularly for children who lack adult role models in their homes. The objectives of shadowing or mentoring for younger students would be somewhat different than those for older students. Rather than to help students to develop specific job skills, the goals for younger students may focus on exposing children to a variety of work experiences; helping them understand the importance of education and training; and aiding in development of attributes such as responsibility, cooperation, and self-esteem. Whether conducted inside or outside the school, shadowing experiences should be tied to the classroom curriculum. This might be accomplished by having students keep journals describing their activities and insights and by relating their experiences to social studies projects, such as study of their community. Study of the community is a part of the primary social studies curriculum in many US school districts. This curriculum might be expanded,

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Children's Social and Economics Education

beginning at intermediate-grade levels, to include investigation of the economic base of the local community, the range of jobs it provides, and skill levels required for these jobs. Although children's career dreams should not be discouraged, reinforcement of the notion that productive members of the economic system fill a diversity of roles requiring various levels of education and training may be particularly helpful. The importance of each job to the total functioning of the community should be included in the curriculum and should be strongly reinforced.

Directions for future study This study took place in one US urban school district characterised largely by students from middle- to low-income households. The district experiences, as do many urban districts, a high rate of student dropout in the high school years. High school teachers report that, by the 10th grade, higher education is a remote prospect for the majority of their students, yet little study has been done about the aspirations of these students. A continuation of this project into the middle and high school years would provide a window into the knowledge, viewpoints, and aspirations of teenagers from similar backgrounds and would permit additional insights into patterns of continuity and change in students' perceptions as they age. Further research of this nature with students from other social and economic contexts, such as rural and suburban, is also needed to gain further insight into development of the focus concepts in all children.

Acknowledgments The author thanks the 16 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers who provided invaluable assistance in interview arrangements. District administrators, in particular the social studies' facilitators and research director, were very supportive of the project. Special appreciation goes to the students and their parents who consented to the interviews, allowing creation of the database. Martha C. Hopkins coordinated and conducted the student interviews on which this paper is based and provided helpful insights in the preparation of this paper. Guy Kaulukukui assisted in the interview process. Michael Duckworth helped with compiling and organising the data. Mark Schug, Richard Hughes, and Margaret Carr gave invaluable comments on drafts of the paper. The author thanks all of these individuals as well as the two anonymous referees.

Notes 1. For example, Kourilsky (1996).

References Ausubel, D.P., Novak, J.D. and Hanesian, J. (1978) Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View (2nd edn). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Berti, A.E. (1992) Acquisition of the profit concept by third-grade children. Contemporary Educational Psychology 17, 293-9. Berti, A.E. and Bombi, A.S. (1988) The Child's Construction of Economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Claritas, Inc. (1996) U.S. Household Income Estimates, 1995. Chicago, IL, (data disk). Furth, H.G. (1980) The World of Grown-ups: Children's Conception of Society. New York: Elsevier.

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Hutchings, M. (1996) What will you do when you grow up? The social construction of children's occupational preferences. Children's Social and Economics Education 1, 15-30. Schug, M.C. (1983) The development of economic thinking in children and adolescents. Social Education 47, 141-5. Schug, M.C. (1987) Children's understanding of economics. The Elementary School journal 87, 507-18. Schug, M.C. and C.J. Birkey. (1985) The development of children's economic reasoning. Theory and Research in Social Education 13, 31-42. Smith, C.L. and Rojewski, J.W. (1993) School-to-work transition: Alternatives for educational reform. Youth and Society 25, 222-50. Sutton, R.S. (1962) Behavior in the attainment of economic concepts. The Journal of Psychology 53, 37-46. Wittrock, M.C. (1983) Learning science: A generative process. Science Education 67, 489-508. Wittrock, M.C. (1986) Students' thought processes. Handbook on Research in Teaching (3rd edn). New York: Macmillan.

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