Current status and future agenda for the theory, research, and practice of childhood career development.

Author:Palladino Schultheiss, Donna E.

This article reviews the current status and a future agenda for childhood career development theory, research, and practice. The fragmented nature of the current state of the literature is noted, and a call is made for a reexamination and reconsideration of the childhood developmental pathways of life's work. It is suggested that the study of children's work behavior be rooted in life contexts, most notably, families, communities, and schools.

What is the current state of knowledge in childhood career development, where is it going, and how will we get there? One might even beg the question by asking, "Who are the we that are getting where?" One way to answer these questions is to suggest that "we" are an ever-expanding interdisciplinary group of researchers, practitioners, community and business partners, policy makers, parents, and caregivers moving toward a reconsideration of childhood pathways to work. One of the most remarkable aspects of the current state of the literature is the notable absence of interdisciplinary communication and collaboration. The contemporary study of adult work behavior is rooted in the context of people's lives, that is, jobs, communities, and families. The study of children's work behavior must also be rooted in life contexts, most notably families, communities, and schools. Despite the observation that children spend the majority of their waking hours in school or engaged in school-related work, it seems ironic that so few investigations of children's work behavior have incorporated schools, academic work, or collaboration with educators. Embedding childhood career development within a meaningful and relevant developmental continuum does not necessitate importing concepts and constructs evident in the adolescent and adult literature into the childhood career development literature. Hence, studying adult career constructs in childhood populations (e.g., career maturity) may reflect a historical artifact whose time has come. This assertion does not imply that the theoretical, empirical, and practical literature on these vocationally relevant concepts have no use on the developmental horizon. Instead, it implies the need for a reexamination and reconsideration of the childhood developmental pathways of life's work. In this article, I review the current state of the literature on childhood career development with the aim of identifying strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in support of a future agenda for theory, research, and practice.

Current State of the Childhood Career

Development Field


Although it is generally acknowledged that crucial career-related concepts and attitudes are first formed in childhood (e.g., Ginzberg, Ginsburg, Axelrad, & Herma, 1951; Super, 1957), career theorists have placed limited emphasis on childhood career development. Furthermore, existing theory building and research have been predominantly conducted with middle-class suburban youth, thus limiting knowledge of more diverse groups in terms of socioeconomic status and racial/ethnic background. In his life stage model, Super (1957) conceptualized career development as unfolding across the life span from birth to death. The first stage of his model, the Growth stage, concerns children from birth to age 14 years. Super (Super, Savickas, & Super, 1996) described four career development tasks thought to be central to the Growth stage: becoming concerned about the future, increasing personal control over one's life, developing an awareness of the importance of achieving in school and work, and acquiring competent work habits and attitudes. These tasks are assumed to be confronted across three substages: Fantasy (ages 4-10 years; needs are dominant and role playing is important), Interest (ages 11-12 years; likes are the major determinant of aspirations and activities), and Capacity (ages 13-14 years; abilities, training, and job requirements are considered).

Super's (1963) self-concept theory of vocational development also addressed the childhood years. This theory consisted of three elements of self-concept development: formation, translation, and implementation. First, formation, which focuses on exploration, identification with key figures, role playing, and reality testing, was thought to begin in childhood. Second, translation of the self-concept into occupational terms was assumed to occur through identification, experience, and awareness of one's attributes (e.g., interests and abilities). Third, implementation of self-concept, which refers to entry into training or one's first job, was identified as the element thought to emerge during late adolescence and young adulthood.

Super (1990) later proposed a nine-dimensional model of childhood career development. These dimensions (i.e., curiosity, exploration, information, key figures, interests, locus of control, time perspective, self-concept, and planfulness) were assumed to lead to effective problem solving and decision making. Although Super (1990) provided the most comprehensive treatment of childhood career development, little systematic research has been conducted to confirm or refute his theoretical assumptions (e.g., Schultheiss, Palma, & Manzi, 2005). Only recently (Schultheiss & Stead, 2004) has a theoretically and empirically derived instrument been developed to assess the constructs in Super's (1990) nine-dimensional model.

Gottfredson (1981, 2002) outlined a childhood process of career development that emphasized how children narrow their exploratory behavior and career options through perceived internal and external barriers and cultural expectations related to sex roles and the social valuation of occupations. Gottfredson (1981, 2002) described a four-stage process of circumscription whereby children progressively eliminate unacceptable career alternatives, such as those inconsistent with one's sex role and perceived social status. In the first stage, Orientation to Size and Power (ages 3-5 years), children orient themselves to differences in size and power between themselves and adults. Orientation to Sex Roles (ages 6-8 years), the second stage, refers to children's awareness of gender roles and the likelihood that they will see occupations in terms of the stereotypical appropriateness for their gender. In the third stage, Orientation to Social Valuation (ages 9-13 years), children begin to rank occupations by prestige. Finally, the fourth stage, Orientation to the Internal Unique Self (ages 14 years and older), concerns children's eventual awareness of the occupations that are acceptable to them based on their unique characteristics.

Gottfredson (1981, 2002) also described a process of compromise in which one's most preferred career alternatives are abandoned for ones that are less preferred but are perceived as more accessible. Hence, Gottfredson (1981, 2002) suggested that individuals are often willing to accept a good enough alternative instead of thoroughly examining their values, interests, and abilities. When a compromise is made, it is believed that individuals would give up prestige before giving up the sex type of the occupation. There has been considerable empirical evidence to support Gottfredson's (1981, 2002) propositions related to circumscription and compromise, particularly with regard to sex role stereotyping (e.g., Helwig, 2001).

Social-cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994) emphasizes the role of learning in the development of interests. Drawing heavily on Krumboltz's (1996) learning theory and Bandura's (1986) social learning theory, SCCT is based on the assumption that social and cognitive factors play important roles in the career development process. SCCT emphasizes the importance of the interpersonal environment in exposing children to a variety of activities that have relevance to occupational behavior. Through repeated practice, modeling, and feedback from significant people, children are thought to gradually develop skills, adopt personal standards, and be capable of estimating their abilities and the outcomes of their efforts. Although mounting evidence has supported the major tenets of this theory (Fouad & Smith, 1996; Lapan, Shaughnessy, & Boggs, 1996), the focus of this research has largely centered on adolescent and adult populations.


Basic research. The extant empirical literature on childhood career development is fragmented and sparse in comparison with the substantial body of research on late-adolescent and adult career development and work behavior. For example, existing research has addressed the structure of childhood interests (Tracey, 2002), occupational preferences (Stockard & McGee, 1990), occupational aspirations and expectations (Helwig, 1998, 2001; Phipps, 1995; Sellers, Satcher, & Comas, 1999), parental influences on career choice (McMahon & Patton, 1997; Trice, Hughes, Odom, Woods, & McClellan, 1995), and sex role stereotyping and gender differences (Helwig, 2001).

Recent reviews of the childhood career development literature (i.e., Hartung, Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2005; Watson & McMahon, 2005) have yielded tentative conclusions about childhood career development. Hartung et al. conducted a comprehensive review of the empirical vocational literature concerning early to late childhood (ages 3-14 years) using a life span developmental framework. This review was organized around five dimensions that emerged from a content analysis of the articles: career exploration, career awareness, vocational expectations and aspirations, vocational interests, and career maturity/adaptability. The authors concluded that in childhood, steady progress is made across these dimensions and that such progress facilitates the development of personal identity and connectedness to the social and interpersonal world. They also argued that vocational development begins much earlier in the life span than generally assumed and that what children learn about work...

To continue reading