Entrepreneurial intention in adolescents: The impact of psychological capital

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Entrepreneurial intention (EI) of adolescents provides an early window on the entrepreneurial process when young people are forming their occupational identity. Using a neo-configurational perspective, we illuminate the complex causality of EI in a large sample of adolescents and reveal individual differences based on combinations of their psychological capital (PsyCap), gender, academic performance, parent entrepreneurs, and urban environment that culminate in the intention to become an entrepreneur. The empirical evidence provided here reveals synergy, substitution, and suppression effects among the causal conditions indicating multiple pathways to explain both high EI and low EI (indicative of employment intention) which are not the simple inverse of each other. We conduct both deductive hypothesis testing and abductive theory development based on the inductive results, such that this paper contributes to the literature on occupational choices made by adolescents, with implications for educational policy and further research.




The formation of entrepreneurial intentions (EI) is a pre-requisite for individuals to embark on an entrepreneurial career (Krueger Jr, Reilly, & Carsrud, 2000), and by better understanding the drivers of EI we can assist the development of individuals along that trajectory to develop innovative products and services that will improve economic and social welfare and the quality of the natural environment. Adolescents facing the school-to-work transition experience substantial developmental changes and begin to focus on a tentative career path, whether they intend to take that path imminently or after further tertiary and/or experiential learning. They begin to form an occupational identity and face a basic choice between organizational employment and self-employment1 (Blakemore and Choudhury, 2006, Donnellon et al., 2014, Johnson and Mortimer, 2002). Scholars (e.g., Cliff, 1998, Fischer et al., 1993, Hmieleski and Sheppard, 2019, Laouiti et al., 2022, Vega et al., 2016) have noted gender differences in the selection of entrepreneurship as a career alternative, implicating the gender-role expectations of adolescent behavior resulting from prior social conditioning (Ahl, 2006, Deaux and Major, 1987, Eagly et al., 2000, Gupta et al., 2009, Gupta et al., 2019). The growing literature on the formation of EI in young adults (Henderson and Robertson, 2000, Malik-Liévano et al., 2020, Obschonka and Stuetzer, 2017, Vuorio, 2017), attests that the early onset of EI, and what factors influence that choice, are important issues for policy makers, investors, and educators (De Clercq et al., 2013, Santana-Vega and González-Morales, 2020, Vega et al., 2016). Moreover, entrepreneurship offers a career choice that combats the social problem of youth unemployment (Pigaiani et al., 2020). Thus, what makes adolescents form EI is important because their entrepreneurship would contribute to the welfare of individuals, nations, and global social and environmental wellbeing (Hitt, Ireland, Sirmon, & Trahms, 2011).

EI has become a focus in contemporary research on vocational development (Hirschi and Fischer, 2013, Morselli, 2018). Choosing entrepreneurship as a vocation places special demands on adolescents’ career decision-making (Hirschi & Läge, 2008) since they may know relatively little about what this vocation requires but witness exemplars of successful entrepreneurs all around them. While many prior studies focus on personal-level determinants of EI in adult and university student samples (Fayolle and Gailly, 2015, Fayolle and Liñán, 2014, Nikou et al., 2019), relatively little attention has been paid to EI of adolescents in transition to adulthood (Obschonka, Hakkarainen, Lonka, & Salmela-Aro, 2017). Consistent with career development theories (Ireh, 1999, Whiston and Brecheisen, 2002), adolescence and the transition to adulthood play a unique role in the development of vocational identity, preferences, interests, and career prospects, and growing research points to the relevance and usefulness of studying EI as a key element of the emerging entrepreneurial mind-set in adolescents (Geldhof et al., 2014, Geldhof et al., 2014, Geldhof et al., 2014, Schmitt-Rodermund, 2004).

For adolescents considering entrepreneurship, contextual factors at this life stage are likely to include the influence of their parents, and the location (urban vs. non-urban) of their school, for which there is mixed evidence (Kim et al., 2006, Polin et al., 2016, Vladasel et al., 2021). EI will also depend on entrepreneurial self-efficacy (ESE), which reflects the adolescent’s self-assessment of their ability to succeed as an entrepreneur (see Newman, Obschonka, Schwarz, Cohen, & Nielsen, 2019), and has a strong influence on the career options considered by youths in their high school years (Wilson, Kickul, & Marlino, 2007). An important sub-theme in this research domain is gender, since differences have been noted in the ESE of boys and girls and their propensity to undertake entrepreneurship as a career option, with males tending to exhibit higher ESE and higher EI than females (Falck et al., 2012a, Falck et al., 2012b, Patuelli et al., 2020).

But missing from prior studies of EI in adolescents is a measure of respondents’ psychological positivity in other cognitive dimensions, such as hope, resilience, and optimism. Luthans et al. (2014) combine these three dimensions with self-efficacy in their construct of “psychological capital” (denoted as PsyCap). To our knowledge, there has been no study on the nature and impact of PsyCap on adolescents’ EI, despite the known relationship between intrinsic capacities and educational outcomes during compulsory schooling (e.g., Datu & Valdez, 2016). Also missing in the literature are “complex causality” (Misangyi et al., 2017) studies of the formation of EI in adolescents – meaning studies that incorporate the conjunctive (i.e., interdependent) causality of antecedent factors, the asymmetry of data relationships across individuals, and the equifinality of alternative pathways to the same outcome. Prior studies have utilized traditional correlational methods to produce a regression equation that is a single dominant-net-effects prescription to explain EI as the linear-additive influence of independent variables based on the sample averages of data relationships (Furnari et al., 2021). More recently, EI research has adopted the configurational approach to find combinations of antecedent variables acting interdependently with each other that culminate in pathways to EI (see, e.g., Douglas et al., 2020, Nikou et al., 2019). This neo-configurational perspective aligns with the holistic decision-making process of humans (Magnusson & Torestad, 1993) and requires researchers to utilize fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) to assess the heterogeneous case-level “within person” data relationships and uncover finer-grained detail about EI that cannot be revealed by correlational methods (Douglas, 2020). To our knowledge, no prior papers have utilized configurational thinking and the fsQCA method to reveal the complex causality of the determination of multiple pathways to EI in adolescents. Addressing these two important missing pieces in our knowledge will provide new insights for educational and public policy to increase entrepreneurial behavior and deliver better economic, social, and environmental outcomes.

By doing so, our study makes theoretical contributions in three main areas. It is the first empirical work demonstrating how adolescents can capitalize on their individual PsyCap, academic ability, gender resources, and contextual conditions, operating in conjunction to form intentions regarding entrepreneurship. Second, it focuses on identifying case-level configurations of determinants that culminate in multiple pathways to EI for both male and female adolescents prior to their completion of secondary education and thus prior to the career-decision dichotomy of organizational employment or self-employment. Third, our study contributes to the debate about the gender disparity in EI of adolescents and builds on existing gender-based research on adult EI (Ahl, 2006, Marlow and McAdam, 2013, Moreno-Gómez et al., 2020, Nikou et al., 2019, Polin et al., 2016).

The remainder of the paper proceeds as follows. The next section overviews the literature on the antecedent variables selected for our configural model and argues for the causality of these variables in explaining adolescent EI. In Section 3 we reveal our empirical methodology while in Section 4, we discuss the results and conduct abductive theory development of three propositions for subsequent empirical testing. Finally, in Section 5 we conclude by articulating the theoretical and practical contributions, limitations, and future research opportunities identified by this research.


Section snippets


Theoretical background


Theoretical background
Our theoretical lens is social cognitive career theory (Brown and Lent, 2019, Lent et al., 2002), which is influential in explaining how career interests are developed (e.g., Mishra & Satapathy, 2021) and has been used extensively to explain career-related issues of adolescents (e.g., Sawitri & Creed, 2021). Specifically, career choice and attainment are influenced by the way adolescents internalize different experiences. Through their everyday school life, adolescents’ individual resources

Sample and data collection


Our sample comprises adolescent senior high-school students. The Greek context is ideal for our study mainly for three reasons. First, there are higher percentages of unemployed young people in Greece (Pomerantz, Altermatt, & Saxon, 2002). Second, the Mediterranean countries of Europe, such as Greece, are experiencing, as a consequence of the recent economic crisis, higher percentages of unemployed people and more difficult living conditions (Marques & Hörisch, 2020). Third, Greece is included

Necessary and sufficient conditions.


A corollary of the expected interaction of antecedent conditions is that no single condition is likely to be necessary and sufficient for the attainment of the outcome. After data calibration, we ran a necessity analysis to explore whether any single condition could be considered necessary for the outcome (EI) to occur. Although necessity might imply a bivariate correlation of 1.0, the rule is 0.9 (C. Ragin, 2008, Schneider and Wagemann, 2010) because other conditions, alone or in concert, may…



This study contributes to our understanding of how adolescents’ individual differences based on combinations of their PsyCap, gender, academic performance, parent entrepreneurs, and school location are combined to affect their choice to become entrepreneurs at this early life stage. Specifically, our findings reveal three high EI pathways for females, five high EI pathways for males and one where gender does not matter. These pathways are equally likely to culminate in high EI without requiring

CRediT authorship contribution statement

Helen E. Salavou: Original draft, Writing – review & editing. Xenia J. Mamakou: Writing – review & editing, Methodology, Formal analysis. Evan J. Douglas: Writing – review & editing, Visualization, Methodology.

Declaration of Competing Interest
The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.



This work was supported in study design by the Research Centre of the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB), Project of Original Scientific Publications of AUEB Faculty Members [grant number ΕΡ-3007-01 / 00-04]. In addition, this research was supported by the AUEB facilities availabe at the Management Laboratory (ML) and the Business Informatics Laboratory (BILab).

Helen E. Salavou is currently an Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Athens University of Economics and Business. Her main research interests involve entrepreneurship (traditional and social), innovation and strategy of small firms.

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