Published April 2, 2021 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Stability and mobility in occupational career patterns over 36 years in Swiss women and men

  • 1. University of Applied Sciences of Special Needs Education
  • 2. University of Geneva


It is an open empirical question whether occupational trajectories are better described as linear or non-linear. We analysed occupational career patterns (OCPs) over a period of 36 years using longitudinal data from a representative sample of men and women of the German-speaking part of Switzerland. The participants were mostly born in 1963; the data collection spans from 1978 until 2015. For 584 persons, information about the occupational development from age 16 to 52 years was available. Each year’s activity was categorised using the International Standard Classification of Occupations. We conducted sequence analysis (optimal matching analysis) to find clusters and ANOVAs to compare group differences. The results showed six plausible and differentiated OCPs for both genders which support linear career models. For women, OCPs were generally stable. In contrast, men showed more change and upward mobility in OCPs. These patterns were influenced by indicators collected from participants when they were age 15, such as the family’s socio-economic status, the individual’s performance on intelligence measures and attitudes toward gender equality. Furthermore, we found several consequences of OCPs at age 52 on objective indicators of career success (status, income) and subjective indicators (work perception, life satisfaction and health status).

Key messages

  • We studied career development over a period of 36 years (from adolescence to midlife) in Switzerland.

  • Six plausible occupational career patterns supporting a linear model were found for both genders.

  • In women’s career patterns, considerable stability can be observed, while men show more upward mobility.

  • Patterns of upward mobility are related to objective and subjective career success.



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