Conceptualizations of factors influencing career choices of Cuban youth during times of economic instability

Date of Completion

January 2002


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Guidance and Counseling|Education, Curriculum and Instruction




During the last decade Cuba has been faced with the challenge of surviving economically without financial support from the former Soviet Union while it continues to be subjected to the more than forty-year-old U.S. trade embargo. Existing literature offers little description about the way in which Cuban youth perceive the resultant difficult economic conditions. This study attempts to describe how the trajectory of educational attainment, occupational choice, and career aspirations of selected Cuban youth have been influenced since a national emergency economic program, referred to as the “Special Period in a Time of Peace,” was adopted. The purpose of this naturalistic study was to explore the contexts in which ten Cuban participants between the ages of 18 and 34 have been engaged in career decision-making. Participant observation and informal and semi-structured interviews were conducted over the course of two four-week periods in an attempt to elicit retrospective accounts of the experiences and challenges each participant faced. The data collected suggested that during the last decade family influence and availability and access to appropriate educational opportunities were the two major factors that influenced the career decision-making process of the participants. The role that family influence played appeared to be related to the position of the participant within the family unit. Appropriate educational opportunities included early identification programs for the gifted and talented, recognition of educational achievement within the schools, institutional support and flexibility, and available opportunities for career retraining. Participants who faced employment discontinuity, who made career compromises, or who faced significant life change-events such as parenthood, illness, or death also relied on family and access to educational opportunities to overcome perceived barriers. The results of this study also suggest that the emergence of an international economy (in U.S. dollars) and an informal economy (black market), in addition to the national economy (in Cuban pesos), has encouraged certain segments of Cuban youth to engage in specific actions and behaviors to overcome perceived barriers to employment and economic constraints within the current system. ^