Lifespan developmental career models practice essay
The following post is an essay researched and written in anticipation of an exam question for the module Life Career Development in pursuit of the Organizational Psychology Master's qualification within the University of London's International Programmes (Birkbeck College). Excerpts may be be used with the citation:
Aylsworth, J. (2008). Lifespan developmental models can progress by considering women, minorities. (url) Accessed: (Month year).
Exam essay question:
"Review and evaluate the contribution of lifespan developmental models to our understanding of career management for both men and women."
Lifespan Developmental Models
By Considering Women, Minorities
After describing what is meant by a developmental model of careers, we will weave concepts, theory, research and evidence into an examination of two broad areas: 1) stage theories, and 2) gender-flexible approaches, including role-change and continuity theories, which may offer better frameworks for addressing career development and career management issues of women and cultural minorities. We will conclude by acknowledging the limitations of both normative/post-positivist and interpretive/post-constructivist approaches, while calling for more exploration of models that validate how women and minorities own views their careers and career management.
Baltes (1987) provides a widely accepted description of a developmental perspective of careers. Its seven features are career development as: a lifelong process, multi-dimensional and multi-directional, requiring plasticity, involving both gains and losses, being interactive, being culturally and socially embedded, and acknowledging multidisciplinary foci.
Stage theories come from a normative perspective. The major stage theorists referenced here will be Erikson, Levinson and Super. An emphasis on Super will be intentional because he has been the major career stage theorist.
Erickson. Erikson’s Freudian-rooted epigenetic theory (1959) is not a career-stage theory, per se. Rather, it is a life-stage theory. It posits eight stages, each of which requires the resolution of an ego identity conflict and culminates with the rising of a particular virtue. Erikson’s theory does have career management implications for organizations, according to Arnold (1997). First, the ego task of the young adulthood stage is isolation versus intimacy, which suggests for organizations that they pay attention to the needs of individuals of this age group to establish interpersonal relationships that are work-related. Second and relevant for the generativity-versus-stagnation phase, Arnold suggests that mentoring may provide a mid-career spark of motivation for those who are in the adult (and possibly plateaued) phase. Regarding gender, Erikson’s theory is problematic because it does not acknowledge that society can be repressive and, in fact, implies that being out of step with society may be unhealthy.
Levinson. Levinson’s (1978) theory of career development actually is a career-stage theory. His findings resulted from interviews conducted over a period of four years with white, middle-class men. Subjects experienced their careers in four broad life phases, each of which involved a distinct set of tasks and challenges. These findings position his work as extremely relevant for careers but not in a way that generalizes to women, who were not included in his original research. Levinson (1996) did study women later, with his findings being published after his death. He claimed that women did experience the same four phases as men; however, Ornstein and Isabella (1990) did not find that women experienced the review and reassessment described during middle adulthood for men. Regarding gender implications, Erikson did acknowledge that women’s careers may be more constrained than men’s by cultural stereotypes and sexism.
Super. Super is the writer most associated with developmental career theory. He modified his original five stages (Super, 1957) into four (Super & Thompson, 1988): exploration, establishment, maintenance and disengagement.
Super’s contributions to our understanding of careers and career management are significant. He presented career adjustment as occurring throughout life. He posited that individuals recycle their roles during times of transition and change, and he emphasized the importance of the self-concept. He later wrote that he wished he’d used “the personal contract” instead of “self-concept” (Arnold, 1997).
Super has also been criticized, one criticism being that his theory is value-laden, as illustrated by the concept of career maturity. Who is to say whether someone else has achieved “career maturity?” Super is also criticized for failing to acknowledge what happens to individuals once they enter organizations. And, of course, there is the criticism that stage theories, in general, fail to consider women. Ragins and Sundstrom (1989) have much to say here. They write that women’s paths to power in organizations resemble obstacles courses; that men are credited with skill as contributing to their successes, while women are said to have been lucky. In addition, they write that occupations become devalued once women gain a foothold in them.
Despite these criticism, Super deserves credit for acknowledging role salience, the idea that people enact multiple roles and that these roles very over time and relative importance to one another. Role salience is illustrated by Sekaran and Hall’s (1989) comment that among young, dual-career with children, it’s the woman’s career that has traditionally been constrained.
Because they are less prescriptive, change and continuity career models may offer the flexibility for gender and cultural perspectives that stage theories lack. We will briefly touch on three of each of these models.
Change models. Nicholson and West (1988) say that during times of work-related change, people experience four stages: preparation, encounter, adjustment and stabilization. Adams (1976) posits that people experience career change as a seven-stage process, beginning with immobilization and ending with internalization. Hall and Mirvis (1996) write of mini-stages involving exploration, trial, mastery and exit.
Continuity models. Atchley (1989) writes that people are constrained by external and internal continuity in different ways. Law and Meijers (2002) propose that there are four stages during which individuals develop a career identity. The final stage ends with a realization of continuity of personal values and purpose in life. McAdams (1997) provides a seven-step self-interview process that individuals can undertake to construct their own personal career narratives (Cochran, 1997).
Stage theories come from a post-positivist/normative view in which knowledge is assumed to be close to knowable. As a result, these theories are value-laden and do not really inform the career management for groups that exist outside their norms. Coming from interpretive/constructivist perspectives, change and continuity models provide the subjective permission individuals need to experience and manage their careers for themselves; but they offer little opportunity for empirical verification and, from that point of view, can be little more than autobiographical fiction (Arnold, 1997).
Limitations from both perspectives are serious. In assessing what the individual can make of this, we can only hope that investigators from all paradigms continue their research, keeping in mind as Miller (1976) writes, that disadvantaged groups need to be understood not within normative frameworks but according to the frameworks and language that they use to understand themselves.
Exam performance: This essay was not used under exam conditions, so how it would have been marked is unknown.