Published November 25, 2016 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Occupational career patterns over 30 years: predictors and outcomes

  • 1. Interkantonale Hochschule für Heilpädagogik Zürich


Background: Investigating individuals’ sequences of occupations and identifying suitable patterns is a complex task. Most research focuses on single time-points, single jobs and single transitions and only few longitudinal studies have investigated career paths over a long period of time. The aim of this study is to describe occupational career patterns (OCP) over a period of 30 years using longitudinal data from a representative sample of Swiss men and women. Based on a contextualist perspective of career development (Vondracek et al. Career development: a life-span developmental approach, 1986) potential antecedents such as characteristics of the family of origin and consequences of occupational career are examined.

Methods: The database is the Zurich Longitudinal Study “From School to Middle Adulthood” (ZLSE), which includes eleven surveys and covers the age span from 15 to 52 years. Our sample consists of 597 persons. The vocational activity was surveyed with the aid of a “life graph” and the occupational career patterns were categorized with the help of the “International Standard Classification of Occupations” (ISCO-08). In addition information about the family of origin, roles over the life course, highest degree of education, intelligence, satisfaction in different areas of life, income and working conditions were collected.

Results: Patterns of “upward mobility” and “fluctuating patterns” (upward and downward movements) were prevalent in the men’s OCPs. For women, the “family pattern” with several interruptions and the “stability pattern” were most frequently observed. Men’s and women’s OCP were only weakly related to family of origin, but more strongly to their overall life career (e.g. multiple role constellations, such as family and investment in work and education). The results also show that the individual career development matters in terms of later career success and well-being.

Conclusions: The study confirms the overall assumption of more beneficial consequences (for both genders) for “upward mobility”, followed by “fluctuating patterns”, whereas changing patterns such as “downward” and “horizontal changes” show negative effects. In conclusion the study shows that for career counseling practice it is important to look into the future and talk about long-term perspectives.



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