Occupational career patterns over 30 years: predictors and outcomes
Schellenberg et al. Empirical Res Voc Ed Train
Occupational career patterns over 30 years: predictors and outcomes
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.
Career pattern; Job mobility; Longitudinal study; Personality; Social background; Educational level; Occupational status; Career success; Gender
The individual’s career development has long been of interest to vocational research.
However, it is a complex task to describe career/vocational paths. Since individuals can
change jobs and occupations several times during their lifetimes, investigating the career
represents a multi-faceted work activity. Donald Super made a substantial contribution
to career research as early as the 1950s by focusing on the developmental properties of
careers (Super 1957). The developmental aspects of careers have repeatedly been called
for ever since (Savickas 2001; Vondracek and Hartung 2002). However, most research
still focuses on single time-points, single jobs and single transitions (such as high school
and college years), whereas life course investigations have been subject only to limited
research (Scherer 2001). To date, only few longitudinal studies have investigated career
paths over a long period of time.
Super defined career as the “combination of sequence of roles played by a person during
the course of a lifetime” (1980, p. 282). According to this understanding, career
development represents a long-term process, in which personality, interests and abilities are
balanced with environmental incidents. Individuals and environments are subject to change,
and therefore career patterns also reflect changes over the life span. Arthur and colleagues
(1989) propose the following similar definition: “the evolving sequence of a person’s work
experience over time” (p. 9). The definition also shows that work experiences are always
based on a subjective perspective and, hence, differ from person to person.
Occupational career patterns (OCP) may be of significant importance for
organizations (since OCP may influence system maintenance; Barley 1989), as well as for society
(because OCP are likely to influence the profile of communities; Wilensky 1961). The
most important influence, however, concerns the individual. Occupational activity has
an impact on life stage functioning as well as on the fulfillment of tasks in different life
stages (Super 1957). Furthermore, studies have found that career patterns may play a
role in terms of well-being (e.g. Jepsen and Choudhuri 2001). Therefore, empirical
studies of OCP are very important in vocational and career guidance (Jepsen 1994; Savickas
1995). They create a basis for optimal OCP guidance based on well-founded
knowledge—including the risks—of the various career patterns. For this reason, researchers
are to identify OCP and factors involved in influencing decisions at numerous points in
time (Osipow and Fitzgerald 1996).
The overall objective of the present study is to contribute to the knowledge of
occupational career development. Previous research has highlighted the importance to
investigate OCP separately for men and women (Burke and McKeen 1993). The data from
the Zurich Longitudinal Study “From School to Middle Adulthood” (ZLSE) focuses on
personal and occupational development between the ages of 15–52, and we intend to
examine career paths over this extended period of time. This study concerns the cohort
of the so-called “baby boom generation” (i.e. people born around 1963). The study’s main
goal is to identify and describe occupational career patterns as they developed over
36 years for a cohort of men and women now in their early fifties. Secondly, and based
on a contextualist perspective of career development (Vondracek et al. 1986), we
investigate potential antecedents of OCPs with a focus on the family of origin (Whiston and
Keller 2004), different aspects of the life course (e.g. family, children), and intelligence.
Thirdly, we intend to shed more light on the potential consequences of occupational
career development and examine how OCPs are connected with both quality of life (e.g.
satisfaction) and job perceptions/conditions.
Occupational career patterns
Three different ways of describing occupational careers play a prominent role in the
literature (Huang and Sverke 2007). The first concerns orderliness of career development
(orderly vs. disorderly), meaning that occupational transitions are socially constructed.
For example, one job more or less naturally leads to another (Wilensky 1961). A second
approach refers to direction (vertical vs. horizontal), where the focus is on the
connection between occupational mobility and changes in occupational socioeconomic levels
(Ng et al. 2005; Roberts et al. 2007; Schellenberg et al. 2015). A third approach refers to
stability (stable vs. changing occupations) (Jepsen and Choudhuri 2001).
Needless to say, investigating individuals’ sequences of occupations in order to
identify suitable patterns is a complex task and different approaches have been applied. To
identify different career patterns, we distinguish two approaches, namely a theoretically
based categorization, and an empirically grounded typology.
First, an overview of the theoretical procedure is given to categorize OCP: Different
authors describe various categories of career patterns. For instance, Miller and Form
(1951) categorized men’s patterns into initial, trial, and stable work periods and
identified six occupational career patterns analyzing three timepoints over time. Stable and
conventional careers were defined as secure patterns, whereas unstable, single trial,
disestablished, and multiple trial sequence were classified as insecure patterns.
The dominant and traditional point of view on career paths in the twentieth century is
exemplified by the career theory of Super (1957). The typology of Super differs between
stability and change of the life course. He proposed different career patterns for men,
such as “stable”, “conventional” (changes in the initial career phase, but stable
afterwards), “unstable” and “multiple trial”. For women, he proposed further patterns such as
“stable homemaking” (working until getting married), “double track” (working and
family) or “interrupted career” (describing women who follow a career sequence of
workhomemaking-work). Super (1980) proposed that career changes are not only normal but
are psychologically beneficial in a climate of rapid social change.
Wilensky (1961) categorized men’s work histories into six patterns regarding
orderliness and direction: orderly horizontal progression, orderly vertical progression,
borderline orderly vertical progression, disorderly horizontal movement, disorderly vertical
movement and one job for the entire work life. Kinnunen et al. (2005) pre-defined three
categories of career patterns: unstable (varying in fields), changeable (involving activities
such as training and parental leave) and stable (consistent in one field). They found that
men tend to have stable careers, while women more often experience career changes.
Jepsen and Choudhuri (2001) also found that relatively more women show changing
career patterns. Women in traditionally female occupations were less likely to change
occupations. They are overrepresented in jobs that are clerical, semi-professional or
service-oriented, which often have limited upward mobility (Ng et al. 2007).
Ng et al. (2005) made a distinction between different kinds of changes: professional
advancement, a descent down the job ladder, and a job change in which one remains
on the same hierarchical level. Moreover, they differentiated whether these changes take
place within an organization or between various organizations. Ng and colleagues
postulated that there are multiple types of job mobility: Regarding the occupational status, we
can distinguish between upward, lateral and downward mobility. Further, we can focus
on the position after a change (same or changed) and the employer (internal change or
external change: change of the firm).
Instead of pre-determining possible patterns, OCPs can be identified by
inspecting several selected time points of the occupational history and conducting empirical
analysis. Jepsen and Choudhuri (2001) applied optimal matching analysis and cluster
analysis to identify homogenous classes of individuals characterized by similar patterns
of occupational sequences and identified men’s and women’s occupational categories at
every 5-year interval over 25 years. They found five patterns, such as “upward
mobility patterns”, “stable patterns”, “downward mobility patterns”, “fluctuating patterns” and
“others”. They found that less than two-thirds of their sample experienced occupational
change, and that men’s occupational career pattern tended to be more stable than those
However, all the mentioned strategies are merely coarse examinations of career
patterns. For example, the theoretically based method to define career patterns is less based
on data, and to identify OCPs by including occupations only at a limited number of
time points makes results depend strictly on those time points inspected (Pollock et al.
2002). To address these problems, we use longitudinal data and examine occupational
sequences over a period of 30 years. We categorize the career patterns with the help of
the “International Standard Classification of Occupations” (ISCO; ILO 2012), which is
a very well established instrument. The ISCO is basically a categorical system but does
partially have a hierarchical structure based on educational level (for more details see
“Career patterns” section). Therefore the categorization of “stable” “horizontal changes”,
“upward career”, “downward career” and “fluctuating pattern” are the logical
consequence to describe OCPs.
Predictors of occupational career patterns
There are different possible explanations for occupational career patterns (Bender et al.
2000): on the one hand, there are contextual factors related to the family of origin
(Schulenberg et al. 1984), and on the other hand, there are individual characteristics (e.g.,
gender, qualification, age) and motives (e.g., parenting).
Whiston and Keller (2004) distinguished between the impact of two types of family
variables, namely family structure variables (e.g., parents’ occupations) and family
process variables (e.g., relations to parents). The authors found evidence to support the fact
that children tend to enter similar occupational areas as their parents, and they often
select occupations with similar socio-economic status (SES), as well. The SES is
connected to educational and occupational attainment, even after controlling for cognitive
abilities and occupational career aspiration (Roberts et al. 2007). Furthermore, relations
with parents were found to be an important factor affecting career maturity and
vocational identity (Whiston and Keller 2004). In several studies, participants indicated that
their mothers, rather than their fathers, had a more significant influence on their career
choice. However, there is limited knowledge concerning the influence of the family of
origin on career patterns over the life span. One of the few studies found that the origin
affects earlier educational transitions more strongly than later ones (Breen and Jonsson
Fitzgerald et al. (1995) concluded that there is “dramatic evidence of the change in
women’s life patterns, a change that has been called the most significant social
phenomenon of the 20th century” (p. 78). A classic example is the comprehensive study of
10-year job histories of 498 women college graduates from the class of 1968 (Betz 1984).
All but a few women worked outside the home, and 79% combined both homemaking
and working outside the home. 29% showed no changes in occupation over the 10-year
period and were classified as “fixed careers.” Although women’s and men’s labor force
participation rates are becoming more similar (European Commission 2001), women
typically have more complex interactions with the labor market (Lee 1994; Super 1957).
Since women carry the major responsibility for children, they more often work part-time
and experience more interruptions in their career patterns due to motherhood. This, in
return, may have a negative influence on vocational advancement (“upward mobility”)
(Huang and Sverke 2007). Jacoby (1999) found that childless women and men have
similar mobility patterns and SES-levels. Full-time working mothers also have similar SES
levels and an upward trend over time. In contrast, part-time working mothers showed
decreased occupational SES levels. Other findings are that the frequency and length
of career interruptions were important factors related to current earnings and
occupational levels (Stewart and Greenhalgh 1984). It can be assumed that activities such
as homemaking roles, part-time work, and career breaks, may have unfavorable
consequences for occupational career development. Women often change their employment
status over the course of their life and have quite varying schedules for childbirth (Lee
1994). Regardless, however, how such variations may affect occupational career patterns
is largely unknown.
Breen and Jonsson (2005) found evidence for the fact that further education mediates
a substantial part of the association between social origin and career outcomes (Breen
and Jonsson 2005). Also, other findings show that investment in education is associated
with upward occupational mobility and high occupational standing (Becker 1993).
Further, it became evident that the higher the educational level, the less likely a person was
to choose a stable career path.
In terms of individual factors, cognitive abilities are found to be possible antecedents
for occupational career patterns, being associated with upward occupational mobility
and high occupational standing (Deary et al. 2005; Spiess Huldi 2009). The intelligence
of the employees is related to good performance at work; generally, people with
aboveaverage values in intelligence solve problems faster and more efficiently (Amelang and
Bartussek 2001). Cognitive abilities also play an important role by having an effect on
educational attainment. People with above-average intelligence values usually undertake
further education more frequently (Buchmann and Sacchi 1995; Mayer 1991).
Outcomes of occupational career patterns
The developmental perspective postulates that the capability of mastering tasks at an
early time point will influence how well one will cope with tasks in later stages (Super
1957). For this reason, a successful occupational career history is likely to have beneficial
consequences. Little empirical research has been conducted to investigate the
longterm-effect of occupational career patterns. Vondracek et al. (1986) found that patterns
of vocational identity in adolescence are associated with later psychological well-being.
One key indicator for career success is career advancement, such as upward mobility.
It is typically found that upward mobility (Lynch and Smith 2005)—as well as orderly
careers (Osipow and Fitzgerald 1996) and stable careers (Smart and Peterson 1997)—
are linked to beneficial consequences for the individuals, in comparison with disordered,
less stable, and downward careers. Pollmann-Schult (2006) summarizes that job changes
in the sense of “upward mobility” are frequently connected with higher salary and higher
prestige levels. He pointed out that mobility processes cannot be assessed only by
extrinsic characteristics, but that they must also be assessed by satisfaction with work,
working conditions and connection with different areas of life (e.g. work and family). The
author showed that individuals with “upward mobility” patterns showed more workload
and less favorable working hours. On the other hand, people with “downward mobility”
(in the sense of lower prestige and income level) had lighter workloads and better
working hours, but also fewer promotion prospects. Jepsen and Choudhuri (2001) observed
that people with changing occupational career patterns were more satisfied with their
life courses and jobs in midlife than people with stable patterns. Furthermore, Kanchier
and Unruh (1988) found that job changers were more satisfied with their position than
nonchangers among managers in one large Canadian organization.
Research questions and hypotheses
The main goal of the present study is to contribute to the understanding of occupational
career development. Existing models in career development, typically based on the
experiences of men, can probably also be applied to women. Our special focus, hence, is
on women’s OCP. Our first aim is to identify and describe women’s and men’s OCP over
a 30-years life span from the time they leave school to middle adulthood.
We ask the following questions:
1. How frequent are stable OCP and career patterns with occupational changes over
the lifespan? Among people who have changing occupational patterns,
2. What kinds of occupational changes are most frequently observed?
Based on a conceptual perspective of career development, we investigate
potential antecedents of occupational career patterns, and therein conditions and events
linked to stable and changing occupational career patterns. Our focus lies on the
family of origin and various roles over the course of life, such as family and
motherhood. We also investigate cognitive abilities and their influence on occupational
3. What roles do sociodemographic factors, such as social background, gender,
educational level, and different life roles (e.g. motherhood) play in the course of the
occupational career over 30 years?
4. What is the influence of intelligence on occupational career patterns? Following the call in literature for more research on the long-term consequences of career development, we examine the influence of occupational career patterns on a variety of possible outcomes, such as career success (measured by later income),
quality of life (satisfaction in different life domains) and job perception (work
5. Are there any differences in career patterns with regard to income, satisfaction in
different life domains and job perception in middle adulthood?
To answer questions concerning antecedents and outcomes of occupational career
patterns, we conduct our analysis separately for men and women.
The database is the Zurich Longitudinal Study “From School to Middle Adulthood”
(ZLSE). This longitudinal study, to date, includes eleven surveys (B1 to B11; see Fig. 1)
and covers the age span from 15 to 52 years (Schallberger and Spiess Huldi 2001;
Schmaeh et al. 2015). The project was not planned as a life-long study but evolved from
phase to phase. The first phase on “Vocational Choice” encompassed a broad collection
of personality and environmental variables with a sample representative of 15-year old
students of the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland. The current phase
5 “Continuity and Change” (surveys B10 and B11) is restricted to the German speaking
part of Switzerland and encompasses 882 participants (for more detailed information
see Schmaeh et al. 2015).
The 11th survey took place during summer 2015. The current study was carried out by
the University of Applied Science of Special Needs Education (HfH) and the University
of Basel, with financial support from the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research
and Innovation (SERI).
In waves B10 and B11, the vocational activity was surveyed with the aid of a “life
graph.” Within this, the type of occupation, the position, the employment grade, the
start and end of the occupational phase were collected. The life graph portrays the whole
time span from the end of the school (19 years) up to middle adulthood (52 years). For
602 persons, complete information about their occupational development from 19 up
Fig. 1 Study design of the Zurich longitudinal study
to 52 years of age is available. Five persons had to be excluded because of long periods of
illness or unemployment. Therefore, our sample consists of 597 persons.
Of the 597 persons, 320 (53.6%) are female. Regarding socioeconomic background,
almost two-thirds (68.1%) come from the middle class, slightly more than one-fifth from
the lower class (21.9%), and 10% from the upper class. Approximately 46% have visited
a type of school with basic demands and 54% with higher demands. The distribution of
the chosen sample can be compared with the initial random sample regarding gender
and social class (for gender Binomial test: p = .400; for social class, χ2 goodness-of-fit
test: p = .502). A significant difference, however, is apparent regarding the type of school
completed by the age of 15: in our subsample compared with the total random sample,
it becomes evident that more persons had a school type with higher demands (Binomial
test: p = .000).
The occupational career patterns were categorized with the help of the “International
Standard Classification of Occupations” (ISCO), version ISCO-08. It was possible to
categorize all the occupations without difficulty, including occupations in the past (1979,
1982, etc.). The ISCO-08 subdivides the occupations into major groups, sub-major
groups, minor groups and unit groups. Those in occupational major groups are
differentiated as (1) “managers”; (2) “professionals”; (3) “technicians and associate professionals”;
(4) “clerical support workers”; (5) “service and sales workers”; (6) “skilled agricultural,
forestry and fishery workers”; (7) “craft and related trade workers”; (8) “plant and
machine operators and assemblers”; and (9) “elementary occupations.”
The data from the life graph were divided from 1982 (age 19) on into 5-year episodes.
This resulted in seven points in time (1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2012).
The activity at July of each year was coded and the major occupational group extracted.
If information about the occupation was missing at one point in time, the person was
included in our sample nevertheless. Yet, if more than two points in time were missing,
the person was excluded.
In order to understand the formed patterns, attention must be directed to the fact that
ISCO is a classification system that does not show a general ordinal level. But some of
the occupational groups clearly have a higher socioeconomic level than the others, such
as occupational group 1, “managers”; group 2, “professionals” and, group 3, “technicians
and associate professionals.” Contrarily, group 9, “elementary occupations,” subsumes
the lowest paid jobs with low qualifications. Groups 4–8 are as a major group sui generis
on the same level as far as status and required education are concerned. Based on these
features, the following career patterns were formed:
1. Stability At each time point occupations have the same ISCO-08 major group. 2. Horizontal changes Only changes between major ISCO-groups 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 are allowed.
3. Upward career In this group, we integrate career patterns with an ascending occupa
tional status over the occupational career. Minimally at one time point the persons
had an ascent (from 9 to all others; from 4–8 to 1, 2, 3; from 3 to 2 or 1; from 2 to 1)
and no descent at any time.
4. Downward career Minimally, at one time point, the person had a descent (from all
other to 9; from 1, 2, 3 to 4–8; from 1 to 2, 3; from 2 to 3) and no ascent at any time.
5. Fluctuating pattern This group contains career courses with at least one ascent and
6. Family pattern This group contains at least two points in time with interruptions
because of family duties (care for children, relatives, househould).
Breaks in occupational careers: short breaks (one point in time) because of
motherhood or unemployment are allowed in OCP 1–5. Also one or several breaks for further
education (or for other reasons like travelling) are allowed in all OCP.
Family of origin
Social class The social class at the age of 15 years was operationalized through the
threestage indicator “highest educational level” and the occupational position of the father (or
the single mother) (1 = lower class, 2 = middle class, 3 = upper class).
Parenting style The parenting style at the age 15 was surveyed with two questionnaires,
regarding the mother and the father separately. The questionnaires were designed based
on Cooper (1966) and consist of eight different statements, each to be rated either as
“true” or “false”. Three subscales, namely “warmth”, “control” and “stimulation”, were
included. The internal consistencies proved satisfactory (from .65 to .71). We decided
to consider only the parenting style of the mother, because mothers played a significant
role as a primary caregiver in the 60s and 70s.
Multiple roles over the life course
Number of children The number of children was surveyed at the age of 52 with an open
Level of employment At the age of 52, the percentage of work in the current job was
Highest degree of education
The highest degree of education that a person acquired is based on the information in
the life graph (or other parts of the survey). The following six categories are possible
(Hättich et al. 2014): low or no further education; vocational education and training;
advanced federal Professional Education and Training (PET) diploma; baccalaureate
school (also teacher training); University of Applied Sciences and University/Federal
Institute of Technology.
At the age of 15, verbal intelligence, logical thinking and figural intelligence were
measured (Schmale and Schmidtke 1966; Amthauer 1973) and merged to one value.
Cronbach’s α is 0.80.
Various aspects of satisfaction in different areas of life at the age of 52 were chosen:
occupation, family, financial situation, health and life in general. Answers regarding
satisfaction were given on an 11-point scale (from 0 = “not at all satisfied” to 10 = “fully
satisfied”). Satisfaction with life in general was surveyed with the Satisfaction with Life
Scale (Diener et al. 1985). It contains five items with a 7-point scale (from 1 = “not true
at all” to 7 = “absolutely true”). The internal consistencies proved to be good (.88).
Income The gross salary indicated at the age of 52 was chosen. The salary has been
adjusted according to 100% work activity.
Motivating potential of work This dimension was surveyed at the age of 52 with a
modified version of the Job Diagnostic Survey from Hackman and Oldham (1975,
considering the modification see Häfeli et al. 1983). The scale consists of the four subscales “skill
variety”, “task identity”, “autonomy” and “task significance” with three items each. The
response format reached from 1 = “never” to 5 = “always”. The internal consistencies of
the main scale proved to be good (.77).
Description of occupational career patterns
A majority of 32.8% (196 persons) showed an “upward career pattern,” 21.9% (131
persons) a “stable career”, 17.8% (106 persons) a “fluctuating pattern”, 15.4% (92 persons) a
career with several breaks of motherhood (“family pattern”), 8% (48) a career with
horizontal changes and 4% (24) a “downward career.” As shown in Table 1, there was a
significant association between career patterns and gender (χ2 = 148.16; df = 5; p = .000). For
women, the most frequent pattern was the “family pattern” (28.4%) followed by the
“stable career pattern” (28.1%). They showed these two patterns as well as the “downward
career” (5.6%) significantly more often than men. Men, however, showed an “upward
career” (48.7%) most frequently, followed by a “fluctuating pattern” (21.7%). These two
patterns and also the “pattern with horizontal changes” (12.3%) were significantly more
frequent among men. The effect size was large (Cramers V = .498).
Regarding the social class, there was an overall effect for men (χ2 = 16.46; df = 8;
p = .036): Those with a “stable career” came with a lower probability from the “upper
class” and those with a “downward career” pattern came with a higher probability from
the upper class—these result should be regarded with a certain caution because of
the low sample size. For women there was no association of pattern with social class
(χ2 = 14.02; df = 10; p = .172).
Determinants of occupational career patterns
In this study, we analyzed career patterns for men and women separately. For men, we
assumed five different career patterns, because only one male shows the “family pattern,”
which was frequently seen in women.
Table 1 Frequency distribution of career patterns by gender and parental social status/
a Significant adjusted residuals
The association between the different job groups (ISCO) at age 19 and the career
patterns showed for men: Compared with other groups “professionals” had less likely an
“upward career pattern” (20.0%) and more likely one of “stability” (33.3%). “Stability” was
more common in “clerical support workers” (40%). “Craft and related trade workers” less
Table 2 Association between career pattern and ISCO-08 major group at age 19, men
For women (Table 3, χ2 = 87.83; df = 35; p = .000), “professionals” were more likely
in the OCP “stability” (65.7%) und less likely in “family pattern” (11.4%). “Technicians
and associate professionals” were more common in “downward pattern” (11.1%) and less
common in “upward career” (12.0%). “Service and sales workers” had a higher
probability for an “upward career” (26.1%) and a lower one for “stability” (18.5%).
“Fluctuating patterns” were found among two-thirds of “skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery
workers” (66.7%). Of all “Craft and related trade workers”, none could have been put in
the “stability” group (0.0%). However, this analysis should be considered with caution
since certain groups were not independent from one another, and there could have been
floor and ceiling effects.
The highest level of education was significantly associated with OCP, this holds true for
both men and women. For men (Table 4; χ2 = 45.16; df = 20; p = .001), the pattern
“stability” was found much more frequently among individuals with vocational education.
They also had a higher probability for “horizontal changes”, but a lower probability for an
“upward career” and “fluctuating patterns”. Those who had graduated with a
baccalaureate degree more often showed “fluctuating patterns”. Men with advanced federal PET
diploma or with University of Applied Science more often showed an “upward career”.
Regarding women, “upward” and “downward careers” were more frequent among
those with vocational education (Table 5; χ2 = 69.41; df = 30; p = .000). An “upward
career” was more frequent among women with an advanced federal PET degree. The
“family pattern” was more frequent among women with low or no further education,
and “stability” was more frequent among women with Baccalaureate School/Teacher
Table 3 Association between career pattern and ISCO-08 major group at age 19, women
Stability (%) Horizontal Upward Downward
(n = 86) changes (%) pattern (%) pattern (%)
(n = 14) (n = 57) (n = 16)
Table 4 Frequency distribution of career pattern by highest education level, MEN
a Significant adjusted residuals
a Significant adjusted residuals
Table 5 Frequency distribution of career pattern by highest education level, women
Stability (%) Horizontal Upward
(n = 90) changes (%) career (%)
(n = 14) (n = 61)
training. For both genders, a University/federal Institute of Technology degree had no
significant association with career patterns.
Tables 6 and 7 show the results of the influence that various antecedents had on men’s
and women’s different career patterns. We considered three aspects, namely parenting
style of the mother in the adolescence, intelligence, and number of children.
Referring to perceived control of the mother, men whose mothers had shown little
control and had permitted a high degree of autonomy were overrepresented in the career
pattern “upward career” (2.57) and “fluctuating pattern” (2.75), in comparison with
Table 6 Differences in antecedents between occupational career patterns: means,
univariate F tests, and post hoc comparison, men
1.13* .051 3, 5 < 2
5.3** .075 3, 5 > 2
14.59** .188 6 > 1, 3, 5
Post-hoc-test (equal variances: Bonferroni post hoc tests, unequal variances: Dunnett-T3)
Table 7 Differences in antecedents between occupational career patterns: means,
univariate F tests, and post hoc comparison, women
Stability Hori- Up-ward
Down(1) zontal career ward
changes (3) career
Post-hoc-test (equal variances: Bonferroni post hoc tests, unequal variances: Dunnett-T3)
differences between the OCP of men in terms of the parenting dimensions “stimulation”
and “warmth”. Regarding women, there were no significant differences in terms of
In terms of intelligence, significant differences were found between men’s career
pattern “upward career” (5.33) and “fluctuating pattern” (6.02), in comparison with the
pattern “horizontal changes” (4.06). Referring to women, there were no differences.
There were no significant differences between the various career patterns and the
“family pattern” had more children (2.62) than women with the patterns “stability” (1.6),
“upward career” (1.16) and “fluctuating pattern” (1.35).
Regarding outcomes, the career pattern determined the gross income in Swiss Francs
(CHF) per year (Tables 8, 9; F = 5.82; p < .01 for men and F = 7.06; p < .01 for women).
For the men, the group “upward career” (CHF 120,000) had a significantly higher median
income than the group “horizontal changes” (CHF 79,000). Furthermore the group
“fluctuating pattern” (CHF 109,286) earned significantly more than the group “stability”
(CHF 80,000) and “horizontal changes” (CHF 79,000). Referring to women, the group
“upward career” (CHF 97,500) had a significant higher income than all other groups.
With regard to the different areas of satisfaction in life, no associations were found
for men. Regarding women, there were significant differences in overall satisfaction with
life (F = 3.19; p < .05) and with family (F = 2.99; p < .05). Women with an “upward
career” were more satisfied with their life (4.83) than women with a “fluctuating
pattern” (4.16), and those with a “family pattern” were more satisfied with their family (9.25)
than women with a “stable career pattern” (8.37). Regarding the motivating potential
of the current job, there were differences between the OCP (F = 2.95; p < .05 for men
and F = 3.02; p < .05 for women). Persons with an “upward career” showed more
motivating potential in their work than persons with the “horizontal change pattern”,
independently of gender (3.93 and 3.98, respectively). Lastly, there were some differences in
level of employment (F = 3.59; p < .05 for men and F = 4.74; p < .01 for women). Men
with “upward careers” had a higher level of employment (98.2) than men with “stable
Table 8 Consequences between different occupational career patterns: means, univariate
F tests and post hoc comparison, men
5.82** .091 5 > 1, 2; 3 > 2
2.95* .050 3 > 2
3.59* .055 3 > 1
Table 9 Consequences between different occupational career patterns: means, univariate
F tests and post hoc comparison, women
Stability Hori- Up-ward
Down(1) zontal career ward
changes (3) career
7.06** .136 3 > 1, 2, 4, 5, 6
3.19* .052 3 > 5
3.02* .058 3 > 2
4.74** .084 6 < 1, 3
careers” (91.9). Women with “family patterns” worked less (58.2) than women with
“stable courses” (70.2) and “upward careers” (78.9).
Findings and conclusions
Longitudinal research designs, studies investigating longer career development beyond
school years and young adulthood, and studies focusing on women’s career development
are still rare. Various authors have considered the importance of investigating the
developmental perspective on vocational behavior (e.g. Jepsen and Choudhuri 2001; Savickas
2001; Vondracek and Hartung 2002; Schulenberg and Schoon 2012). The main goal of
the present study was to describe occupational career patterns using 30 years of data
from a representative sample of men and women from the German speaking part of
Switzerland, and, in addition, to examine potential antecedents and consequences.
We found that women’s and men’s OCPs were different. In terms of stability and
change, patterns of “upward mobility” and “fluctuating patterns” were prevalent in men’s
OCPs. On the other hand, the “family pattern” with several interruptions and the “stable
pattern” were prevalent in women’s OCPs. Few persons (but particularly women)
experienced downward mobility in their careers. Women stay in the same occupation/position
more frequently and move forward to leading positions more rarely. Women have more
unfavorable patterns, such as moving downward, compared with men.
In the present study, we also found an important dependency between OCP and
occupational categories. For both genders, the “stable pattern” is more common for
“professionals” at age 19. On the other hand, women who started their career in the
category “service and sales workers” are more likely found in the pattern “upward career”.
According to our data, people with “upward careers” had often started their careers by
doing an apprenticeship (e.g., in industrial or commercial occupations) and later were
promoted to a managing position (e.g. leading his/her own company). Leemann and
Keck (2005) found that young women are entering vocational education more frequently
for personal service jobs, while young men more often select industrial-technical
occupations. This gender-specific distribution is also called “horizontal gender segregation”
(Charles 2005). Some occupational fields (e.g. teachers—“professionals”) have less
occupational mobility than other fields (Leemann and Keck 2005).
On the whole, our results show that in today’s professional careers, linear career
courses (such as “stable courses”) or reaching a higher-status position (“upward careers”)
are still common, but modern career models with several occupational changes
(“fluctuating patterns”) have probably become more frequent recently. In accordance with
this result, the career pattern “protean career” describes changes as a new element of
today’s career patterns (Hall 2004). On the other hand, the present study contains a
specific cohort in a specific economic and sociohistorical context: Women from the
former generation were probably more often housewives than women from more recent
Previous research on careers suggests that occupational development is a process of
interaction between the individuals and his/her environment, especially the
family-system (Vondracek et al. 1986; Whiston and Keller 2004). The impact of family of origin on
vocational behavior has repeatedly been asserted. In many studies, social background
and also educational level have proven to be central determinants of the vocational and
the career patterns. Especially in Switzerland, with a system of early selection
decisions, these influences have frequently been confirmed, at least for the start of the career
(Becker 2013; SKFB 2014). The present study investigated the influence of the family on
the long-term career development profiles.
We found that social class had only a significant impact on OCPs of men. The
quality of relationship to the parent during childhood and adolescence, and the parenting
style may be of importance for future vocational behavior (Whiston and Keller 2004).
The present study could support this assertion, but not for all OCPs, and only in men’s
career patterns: The mother’s parenting style control vs. autonomy has an impact on
the career patterns “upward career” and “fluctuating pattern”. In accordance with this
result, Whiston and Keller (2004) found that a career development (e.g. occupational
aspiration) involves an open and supportive interaction with the parents, where there is
mutual respect and encouraged autonomy.
Regarding the individual factors, we found a relationship between intelligence and the
career patterns “upward career” and “fluctuating pattern”, but only for men. In
accordance with the literature, results from longitudinal studies show that intelligence in youth
and adulthood had an impact on the occupational status over the life span (Deary et al.
2005; Judge et al. 1999; Weinert and Hany 2000). Highly intelligent people usually
commit to more further education and take more managing functions (Spiess Huldi 2009).
The antecedents of youth (SES, relationship to the parents and intelligence) seem to
influence only the OCP of men. For women, the relation between OCPs and
individual life roles is stronger than the association with these early factors. We found similar
results for social status (Häfeli et al. 2015).
Furthermore, our study shows that OCPs are associated with the way individuals
develop multiple role-activities over the life-span. It was found that high occupational
standing and “upward mobility” were associated with a life style characterized by higher
job involvement, higher work percentage, and limited family role responsibilities (only
for women). Furthermore, it was found that upward mobility was associated with high
investment in education (overrepresented among persons with advanced federal PET
diploma and PET College Degree/University of Applied Science). Part-time working and
OCPs with long career interruptions due to childcare (“family pattern”) were related to
lower occupational standings with low or no further education. Women with a higher
number of children were overrepresented in “family patterns”.
The results show that OCPs are related to life roles and, hence, implies the importance
of career guidance agencies especially for women’s career development (Hakim 2000).
The results of the present study also show that the relation between OCP’s and
individual life roles is stronger than that with the family of origin. This is in line with other
studies suggesting that careers are becoming more and more diversified and that this
can be attributed to high personal agency and decreasing influence of social constraints
(Hakim 2000; Heinz 2003).
Lastly, we investigated some potential consequences of OCPs. The results show that
the individual career development matters in terms of later career success and
wellbeing/quality of life. Our study confirms the general assumption of more beneficial
consequences for “upward mobility” (Smart and Peterson 1997; Huang and Sverke 2007)
and “stable careers” (Lynch and Smith 2005), in comparison with “downward mobility”
and “horizontal changes”. In particular, the pattern “upward mobility” is the most
successful one when regarding later income. An exception is the “fluctuating pattern”, that
also reveals to have beneficial consequences regarding income. This pattern is
prominent among men. According to Baruch (2004), linear career courses, which are defined
by achieving a higher status in a position, will be outdated more and more by modern
career models. Sullivan and Baruch (2009) describe, among others, “the
boundaryless” and “the protean career” as new, modern career patterns. Herein, individuals are
regarded as being flexible and free; they are always ready to learn something new, and
they look for inner satisfaction.
Regarding the satisfaction we found differences in some of the OCP’s, but only in the
career courses of women. Different career patterns seem to fit different groups of women:
Family-oriented women are more satisfied with their families than other groups,
careeroriented women are more satisfied with their lives and their job than some other groups.
Furthermore, we found women and men in upward mobility pattern to perceive their
work situation as more motivating, in comparison to most other OCPs, which is
consistent with previous research. For example, Parasuraman and Simmers (2001) show that,
in comparison with organizational employees, self-employed persons (with leadership
functions and the “upward career” pattern) perceived higher autonomy and time
flexibility at work, and had higher job involvement and job satisfaction. Huang and Sverke
(2007) found that persons with upward mobility reported to perceive their job as more
stressful (e.g. more role conflict), and to have larger conflicts between work and family
domains; these women had to sacrifice family role commitments in order to advance
their occupational careers.
Conclusions for the practice
Our study followed career patterns over 30 years and we took nine time points into
consideration. We suggest that for career counseling, it is important to look into the future
and talk about longer perspectives. The study has revealed several implications for
career guidance, policy and counseling:
First, counseling of men and women should be designed partially differently. Women
less often show patterns of the “upward career” type compared to men. The reasons
for that are—especially in occupations preferred by women—fewer opportunities for
advancement are possible, or that there is only an incomplete training and
continuing education and training system available (Häfeli et al. 2015). By now, this has
probably been improved thanks to the new vocational training act (BBG), the organization
and structure of Universities of Applied Sciences (tertiary level A) and the continuing
development of higher vocational education and training (tertiary level B). It remains
unclear, what effects a higher educational level and an increased labour market
participation by women with children have on the younger generation. Career guidance should
be provided beyond the school years to help young women and men make unobstructed
Secondly, regarding upward mobility, the educational level plays an important role: For
advancement in the occupational career, further education over the life span is a basic
resource. Especially the education type “Higher Vocational Training” or “University of
Applied Science” is a good basis for professional advancement. Career guidance should
help people to look beyond their apprenticeships. Therefore, training is needed, as Lee
and colleagues (2009) emphasize: Continuous further training and professional
education helps to find one’s way in today’s non-traditional career patterns.
Thirdly, we found evidence for the assumption that mobility in different directions
(upward and downward in turn) is more widespread in today’s careers.
Gottfredson (1977) postulates that redirection is common until the late 30 s but not thereafter.
Regarding our results, this may have changed, and this, in turn, may have an impact on
the career counseling (e.g., job changes). Instead of counseling clients to go through
normative occupational paths, it is important to consider individuals’ overall life-role
development, where occupational development is located as one part (Jepsen 1994; Savickas
1995; Super 1980).
Strengths and limitations of the study and implications for future research
As for all research, the results of the present study may have been influenced by some
potential limitations. The presented survey contains a specific cohort in a specific
economic and sociohistorical context: Our sample represents Swiss citizens from the
German-speaking part of Switzerland, and, therefore, caution should be paid in generalizing
the results. In order to ascertain whether the results are also valid for other cohorts,
comparisons with younger and older cohorts ought to be made (Lyons et al. 2012). This
way, it would be possible to make a distinction among period-, cohort- and life-history
effects. It would be interesting to find out how the educational reforms on the tertiary
level (see “Findings and conclusions” section), the continuing increased educational level
of the population, and the increase of the gainful employment of women influence the
careers of younger cohorts.
A second limitation concerns the sample size. Although the whole sample was of
substantial size, some of the cells in the tables were small, leading to low statistical power
to find significant differences when smaller groups were compared. However, we were
more interested in the general effects and overall trends (and separately for women and
men), thus making this limitation negligible.
A third limitation contains the categorization of the occupational career patterns. For
the categorization of the OCPs, seven points in time over a period of 30 years were
considered. What specifically happened between the prevailing successive points of time
with regard to the occupation was not taken into consideration in this study. The
categorization of the career patterns was carried out with the ISCO-08 classification. By doing
this, only the occupational main group was considered. Stability in terms of the
occupational main group does not mean that the job had not been changed. There is also the
problem of the ceiling effect: The higher the occupation is rated, the smaller the
probability of advancement. The ISCO classification describes occupational classes; however,
it places more emphasis on evaluating the educational level and the occupational status.
Despite these limitations, this study clearly shows which career patterns women and
men generally show up to middle adulthood. It also sheds light on explanatory factors,
i.e. that the family background has in impact on occupational career development as well
as the personal life situation. Referring to potential outcomes, we found upward
mobility and stability to enable more beneficial consequences than some changing patterns
(downward career and horizontal changes)—even when a period of more than 30 years
CS, AH and AK collected the data, entered it, analyzed it together and drafted the manuscript. CS, AH, AK and KH
reviewed it and approved the final version. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This publication arose from the joint research project “Continuity and change: Interaction of personality and occupation
up to the age of 52 years”, funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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