Restricted (Penn State Only)
Sun, Xiaoran
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 11, 2019
Committee Members:
  • Susan Marie Mc Hale, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Susan Marie Mc Hale, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Nilam Ram, Committee Member
  • Gregory M Fosco, Committee Member
  • Molly Ann Martin, Outside Member
  • youth career development
  • family systems
  • study synthesis
  • Mexican-origin families
  • youth work experiences
  • young adult career attainment
  • machine learning
  • educational attainment
Theory and empirical evidence have highlighted the importance of family context to youth career development across adolescence and young adulthood (Eccles, 2011; Lawson, 2018; Lent et al., 1994; Porfeli & Vondracek, 2009; Savickas, 2002; Super, 1980; Whiston & Keller, 2004). Built on a model that incorporates a variety of theoretical frameworks illuminating the role of family in youth career development, this dissertation aimed to advance understanding of mechanisms underlying the interplay between family systems and youth career development. In particular, three studies addressed mechanisms in the theoretical model that were highlighted in theory but understudied in prior research. Study 1 aimed to explain the long-term implications of mother- and father-adolescent relationship quality for career attainment in young adulthood through youth career development processes, in particular, career adaptivity. Using longitudinal data from 236 youth (53% female; age M = 15.17, SD = .96 at Time 1) and structural equation modeling, tests of a mediation model revealed the mediating role of adolescent career adaptivity (captured by academic performance, sense of control, and self-worth; one year after Time 1) in the link between mother-adolescent relationship quality (Time 1) and young adult occupational prestige at around age 26, though the effects of father-adolescent relationship quality were nonsignificant. Study 2 focused on whether and how youth career development processes, such as their early work experiences, have implications for their family relationships. Given that work is a pervasive yet understudied context for Latino youth (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018), this study took an ethnic homogeneous approach to test longitudinal implications of Mexican-origin youth’s work experiences (including work hours and workplace discrimination) for their relationship quality with fathers as reported by both youth and fathers. Using data with two time points across a two-year interval from 187 youth (52.4% female, 64.7% born in U.S., 50.8% older siblings; M = 19.33, SD = 1.78 at Time 1) from 127 Mexican-origin families, results of multivariate multilevel models revealed a curvilinear link between youth workplace discrimination and fathers’ reports of relationship quality, and linear effects of youth work hours and workplace discrimination on youth relationship reports qualified by youth gender and mother employment. Study 3, based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health; Harris & Udry, 1994-2008), took an innovative approach to analytically synthesize 101 prior studies by examining 53 family experience variables in adolescence as predictors of young adults’ educational attainment, an important step in career development that conditions future career opportunities and outcomes (IOM & NRC, 2015). In particular, using a machine learning approach, this study answered three questions: (1) How accurately does this broad range of adolescent family factors predict young adult educational attainment? (2) When examined concurrently, which family experience factors are the best predictors of young adult educational attainment? And (3) What complex patterns, including nonlinearities and interactions involving this range of family factors, merit further examination? Overall, this dissertation provided evidence for the theoretical model in illuminating the mechanisms linking family systems and youth career development processes and their future career attainment, introduced innovative methods to research on family and career development, provided implications for family-based practice promoting youth achievement, and directed attention to future research efforts for a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying family influences on youth career development.