Childhood Mentors Boost Career Success

Photo credit: NC State University.

New research from North Carolina State University finds that young people who have had mentors are more likely to find work early in their careers that gives them more responsibility and autonomy – ultimately putting them on a path to more financially and personally rewarding careers.

“We wanted to look at the long-term impacts on mentees in naturally occurring mentorship relationships, rather than participants in formal mentorship programs,” says Dr. Steve McDonald, an associate professor of sociology at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work. “And we found that having a mentor provides a clear benefit well into their working lives.”

Having a mentor at a young age can put people on the path to career success. Photo credit: NC State University.
Having a mentor at a young age can put people on the path to career success. Photo credit: NC State University.

The researchers evaluated data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, which asked more than 12,000 people in their teens and early 20s if they had ever had a mentor. Six years later, those young people were surveyed again and asked about their work. But the researchers did more than just compare numbers from the survey.

“People from socioeconomically advantaged backgrounds are more likely to have mentors,” McDonald says. “We wanted to find a way to determine which professional benefits stem from mentorship, as opposed to benefits that came from socioeconomic advantages.”

The researchers did this by using a model that compared people from nearly identical backgrounds in which the only difference was whether they had a mentor. The researchers then examined how these different groups fared in the job market.

“We found that overall employment and compensation were about the same,” says Joshua Lambert, co-author of the paper and a Ph.D. student at NC State. “But people who had mentors when they were younger had greater ‘intrinsic’ job rewards.”

Intrinsic job rewards are things like authority and autonomy, which make work more personally fulfilling.

“The findings imply that mentees learn to place a higher value on jobs with more intrinsic rewards – and those same characteristics are associated with long-term career success,” McDonald says.

The paper, “The Long Arm of Mentoring: A Counterfactual Analysis of Natural Youth Mentoring and Employment Outcomes in Early Careers,” is published online in the American Journal of Community Psychology. The research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“The Long Arm of Mentoring: A Counterfactual Analysis of Natural Youth Mentoring and Employment Outcomes in Early Careers”

Authors: Steve McDonald and Joshua Lambert, North Carolina State University

Published: online August 22, 2014, American Journal of Community Psychology

DOI: 10.1007/s10464-014-9670-2

Abstract: Young people often develop natural mentoring relationships with nonparental adults during adolescence and young adulthood. While much has been learned about the benefits of natural mentoring for more proximate outcomes such as mental health and education, relatively little is known about the causal impact of youth mentoring relationships on career opportunities. This study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) survey to explore the effects of different kinds of natural mentoring relationships on employment outcomes during the early career years (when workers are in their late twenties and early thirties). Whereas traditional methods of causal conditioning show a broad range of employment benefits from being mentored, results from counterfactual analysis using propensity score matching reveal that the benefits of mentoring are confined to intrinsic job rewards. The findings imply that mentors help steer youth toward intrinsically rewarding careers.

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