ERIC Identifier: ED346316
Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Life Cycles and Career Development: New Models. ERIC Digest No.
Many theorists have proposed models for the stages of human life and of
careers. However, the appropriateness of these models for women and minorities
and the validity of those based on chronological age are being questioned.
Changes in the composition of the work force and changing work values such as
increased emphasis on the interrelationship of family and work require new ways
of looking at the life span and career development. This ERIC DIGEST reviews
some of the criticisms of prevailing models and presents some elements of new
life cycle and career development models that account for individual, gender,
and cultural differences in experience.
PROBLEMS WITH PREVAILING THEORIES
Age/stage models form one
school of thought in developmental theory. Levinson, Havighurst, Erikson and
others describe life as a series of stages linked to specific ages and occurring
in sequence. Each age/stage has its developmental tasks, and patterns of
stability and transition to the next stage recur throughout life. (See Merriam
and Clark 1991 and Schlossberg 1985 for details of these theories.)
In Super's (1986) work, career development follows the principles of human
development, and career stages have their developmental tasks. His Life Career
Rainbow model defines career as all the roles played by a person throughout a
lifetime (child, student, citizen, worker, homemaker, leisurite). In each role
one passes through age-linked stages of growth, exploration, establishment,
maintenance, and decline. A person's involvement in these roles depends on
individual psychology and biology and the social/historical context.
A major criticism of prevailing theories is that they are based on male
experiences. Carol Gilligan's work is often cited (Eastmond 1991; Forrest and
Mikolaitis 1986) for pointing out the lack of women's perspectives in
developmental models. According to Gilligan, such models often define maturation
as separation and individuation. However, women's lives are more closely
characterized by social interaction and personal relationships and attachment is
vital to women's development. Women's lives are often less linear than the
theories depict. Their careers may be interrupted by marriage and childrearing,
so they may accomplish the same developmental tasks as men but in different
periods of the life cycle (Eastmond 1991). Although men's and women's work
motivation may be similar, women's career and life choices are affected by
different sex-role socialization and available opportunities (Gutek and Larwood
Researchers are questioning the validity of age-linked phases (Leonard,
Mathews, and Bowes 1987). A more eclectic approach is advocated by Schlossberg
(1985), who describes four ways of viewing adult experience: (1) the cultural
context or social environment; (2) the psychological developmental stages of the
individual; (3) life events or transitions; and (4) continuity and change
throughout the life span.
Such an approach may be more useful in explaining the life/career experiences
of people from different cultural backgrounds. Development is influenced by
supporting institutions, role models, and resources that may be lacking for
minorities (Eastmond 1991). Environmental influences such as school, work, and
home are experienced differently by minorities; their transitions may not
correspond to theoretical age/stage patterns (Hughes and Smith 1985).
Non-Western cultures view aging differently, so the developmental tasks
theoretically associated with age may not be valid for people from these
cultures (Eastmond 1991).
ELEMENTS OF ALTERNATIVE MODELS
The criticisms of existing
models point out elements that are needed in revised theories of human
development. Gilligan (Eastmond 1991) redefines maturity as the integration of "male" and "female" personality attributes. A fuller theoretical model would
include what Forrest and Mikolaitis (1986) call "the relational component of
identity" (p. 79)--how one thinks about oneself in relationship to others.
Maturity would then mean the development of both the separate self and the
Peck (1986) elaborates on the importance of attachment and relationships in
her model of adult self-definition. Identity is described as a process set
within a sociohistorical context. The basis for self-definition is one's sphere
of influence (relationships with others, work, group identification), from which
self-concept grows in an evolving spiral that widens through time and depends on
the extent and quality of relationships. According to Forrest and Mikolaitis
(1986), integration of the independent (separate self) and interdependent
(connected self) aspects is fundamental in the development of both sexes. As
"progress in the direction of equal parenting and nonsexist socialization" (p.
86) is made, the relational component of career development as well as Peck's
model of self-definition should have value for both men and women.
In an alternative model, the relationship element could include the
interweaving of the individual, family, and work. Studies by Hughes and Graham
(1990), Juhasz (1989), and Merriam and Clark (1991) express aspects of this
theme. Hughes and Graham's multifaceted approach identifies six life roles
(relationship with self, work, friends, community, partner, and family). In each
role, individuals pass through cycles of initiation, adaptation, reassessment,
and reconciliation, caused by "triggering events"--dramatic changes in life
roles. A test of the model with 449 adult community college students found a
significant amount of diversity in the developmental stage of each role at a
given time in a person's life. Assumption of a new role or change in an existing
one might create conflict, prompting a need to modify other life roles.
Juhasz (1989) condenses the categories into three roles: family, work, and
self, which she envisions as a triple helix of three interwoven strands along
the horizontal pathway of the life span. The spiral is energized by the need for
self-esteem and affected by environmental influences. Each strand forms varied
patterns or combinations over time as fluctuations in the amount of energy or
attention given to a particular role change the shape of the helix. For example,
when children are young, a parent might invest the most time and energy in the
family role while the other roles are on hold or maintained. This model accounts
for greater individual variation in the timing of life events. Juhasz suggests a
need for changing the definition of what constitutes normal or abnormal
Merriam and Clark (1991) describe a process for charting patterns in the life
strands of work (productive activity) and love (relationships with others).
Although work and love have historically been treated as separate and
gender-linked spheres, more theorists are linking the harmony or dissonance
arising from their interaction to psychological well-being or maturity. Merriam
and Clark cite a "large number of studies that suggest the two arenas are
equally important to both women and men" (p. 35).
The model of adulthood they present is based on life events--benchmarks in
the life cycle--that may be individual or cultural. The charting process
involves identifying work-related and love-related events over a time span;
rating them as "good," "bad," or "okay"; and depicting the results on a graph.
The graphs, representing life-cycle curves or contours, are similar to Juhasz'
concept of the helix. Analysis of the graphs of 405 adults revealed three types
of life patterns:
which work and love are consciously kept in
balance, the two are conceptually fused, or one is taken for
which one of the areas remains
relatively stable and the other varies
which work and love seem to be at cross purposes
and are more independent than in the other patterns, and work
is more central.
In Merriam and Clark's framework, the life events may be individual or
cultural, the latter being societal and historical occurrences that affect
individual lives. The influence of social/historical context is also a feature
of Peck's (1986) model in which an adult's self-definition evolves in a
sociohistorical setting that she describes as a wall that is flexible and
changing. This wall may be lax or constricting; for example, the identity of a
woman who became an adult in a period when women had fewer occupational
opportunities would be constricted by this context compared to one who grew up
with fewer sex-role restrictions.
The influence of social/historical factors is also apparent in Gollub's
(1991) Life Span Framework. Based on gerontological, sociological, and
psychological theories, the framework is a means of developing a profile of a
generation or cohort. Its four parts are as follows: (1) Time
Signatures--significant events affecting each cohort while their values are
being formed; (2) Birthmarks--individual personality traits; (3) Rites of
Passage--stages of value development; and (4) Weather Report--the effect on
values of the external environment (economic, technological, political, and
Cycles of stability and change are a theme of a number of studies of human
development (Hughes and Graham 1990; Juhasz 1989; Merriam and Clark 1991;
Schlossberg 1985). Linear career models, characterized by career progression
through a rigid hierarchy and external definitions of success, may not be
congruent with a cyclical life-span perspective, particularly for more recent
entrants to career track positions such as women and minorities. Buzzanell and
Goldzwig (1991) propose nonlinear models that emphasize flexibility, challenge,
and opportunities for self-fulfillment. Examples they give are (1) expansion of
the apprenticeship concept; (2) steady-state careers--staying in the same
position if fulfilled by it; and (3) spiral patterns--changing careers, having
greater freedom of choice.
From this review of alternative models of
life/career development emerge some themes that may serve as elements of new
The complementarity of male/female characteristics and
inclusion of both perspectives in a complete model
The interrelationship of the individual, family, and work
The influence of social, historical, and cultural factors
upon individual lives
The cyclical nature of the life career
The redefinition of success as the evolution of the whole
person throughout the life span, with varying needs and
priorities in various phases
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