Career Development of Older Adults
ERIC Identifier: ED482538
Publication Date: 2003-00-00
Author: Imel, Susan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Adults in late midlife are a diverse group with varied career development needs. The old
adage "30 years and out" no longer applies to the careers of many adults. The definition
of retirement is changing due to changes workers are making in the later part of their
careers (Rix 2002, p. 27). Large numbers of adults do choose retirement, but for many,
retirement is a means of embarking on a new career. Others remain in the work force,
either voluntarily or because they do not have sufficient resources to allow them to
retire. Still others lose their jobs involuntarily and need to seek employment
opportunities that will provide a bridge to a new career or to retirement. Following
discussions of current trends and changing career concepts, this Digest describes how
information from research and theory can be used to address the career development
needs of late midlife adults.
Older workers have prospered in the recent economic downturn (Uchitelle 2003, p.
A1).Currently, workers aged 55-64 account for 12% of the nation's workers, an increase
of nearly 2% since 2000 (ibid.), and by 2010, nearly one in three workers will be at least
age 55 (Rix 2002). A number of factors and trends are contributing to the increase in
older adults in the work force including demographics, financial concerns, changing
concepts of retirement, longer and healthier life spans, and demand for the knowledge
and skills possessed by the current generation of older workers (Goldberg 2000;
Montenegro et al. 2002; Rix 2002; Uchitelle 2003).
Older adults in the work force are not the only ones who remain engaged in productive
activities. Many adults who have retired look for expanded opportunities and
options--either paid or unpaid--that may represent "a new chapter in life embodying a
new definition of success" (Freedman 2002, online). For these older adults, retirement
represents another stage of life--which may extend for as much as 25 years--in which to
accomplish many things (Welch et al. 2003). Because they have differing abilities,
desires, and needs in terms of both paid and unpaid work, adults in late midlife are not
homogeneous (Goldberg 2000; Rix 2002). As a group, however, they typify some of the
changing conceptions of career.
CHANGING CONCEPTIONS OF CAREER
Once thought to be linear in nature with a natural progression "up the ladder," careers
are now considered to be much more fluid, nonlinear, and unstable (Hall 2002; Moen
1998; Riverin-Simard 2000). Individuals are much more responsible for managing their
own careers and there is a blurring of the boundaries between family and career (Hall
2002; Moen 1998). A study (Montenegro et al. 2002) of workers aged 45-75, for
example, found that for many--particularly those who are baby boomers--juggling family
and career "dominates their views and decisions about work" (p. 2).
Even career stages, once thought to be fairly predictable, are being reexamined,
revealing that in the middle and later career years, individuals' needs and career
concerns change more dynamically than in the past and continuous learning is required
for success. In theory, the late career stage has traditionally meant adjustment into
retirement but in current practice job involvement continues, with little or no physical
decline evident. Depending on the individual and the organization, the later career stage
can be a period of growth, maintenance, or decline (Hall 2002).
A study of more than 900 adults documents the dynamics of careers after age 40. The
study findings revealed five career phases (adapted from Riverin-Simard 2000,
Through continuous redefinition, adults in the study were able to maintain a vocational
identity, although this identity was not necessarily linked to having a job (ibid.).
- In phase one, adults in their mid-40s experienced a break with the past and gained a
new understanding of their goals, their vocational identities, and links between their
work and private lives.
- In the second phase, at the beginning of the 50s, a new career departure was more
evident as career transitions occurred and adults made appropriate modifications
because they had an understanding of their goals.
- In phase three, adults in their mid-50s began seeking a promising departure from the
job market by engaging in new goals that were linked to these departures.
- Phase four found adults in their 60s experiencing a career transition that was
characterized by great rupture and they began dreaming of other kinds of activities to
fulfill their goals.
- When adults were in their mid-60s, they entered the final phase that included the
inevitability of retirement and the need to face a definitive departure from their career. At
this point, they began integrating personal characteristics that had been in opposition to
their vocational identities.
Changing concepts of careers coupled with trends related to paid and unpaid work of
older adults indicate that late midlife adults can still benefit from career development
interventions. Existing models of career development, however, may not address their
needs (Hall 2002; Riverin-Simard 2000).
ADDRESSING THE CAREER DEVELOPMENT NEEDS OF OLDER ADULTS
The diversity of adults in late midlife demands diversity in addressing their needs for
career development. In her study of the postgraduation transition needs of women who
completed an undergraduate degree after the age of 60, for example, Butler (2002)
found preferences for either paid or unpaid activity in the following arenas:
Although career planning had not been a priority for the majority of study participants
when they entered college, for most that changed sometime during the period they were
in college. For many, finding jobs was not important but discovering how to use their
skills in different or new ways was.
- The creative, including writing, painting, and music
- The generative, including mentoring, tutoring, or working with the elderly
- The rendering of service, including serving as community volunteers, docents in
historical homes, and library board members.
Older adults who remain in or return to the work force may have other types of career
development needs such as the opportunity to change jobs within the organization or to
learn new skills (Rocco et al. 2001). Role models, for example, can be just as important
for older employees as for younger ones. Gibson and Barron (2003) found that many
older employees used multiple role models to learn new skills. Although the majority of
these role models were at a higher level in the organization, most were younger than
the employee. Older workers who choose retirement can benefit from learning about
opportunities beyond retirement (Rocco et al. 2001).
Clearly, multiple responses are needed to address the career development needs of
older adults. The following general suggestions can provide some direction to both older
adults and those assisting them with their career development.
- Acknowledge that careers belong to individuals
Although older adults may receive assistance from individuals or organizations with either career planning or with the
provision of career development activities, they need to understand that they are in
charge of and own their careers (Hall 2002). Individuals can be encouraged to think
about their careers in terms of employability rather than as employment, with
employability representing the shift of responsibility for career from the organization to
the individual (Marshall and Bonner 2003).
- Because a key element in successful career development is access to information,
learn how to find and use career information.
This skill will enable older adults to
understand the broad range of opportunities available to them and to make informed
choices (Brewington and Nassar-McMillan 2000).
- Prepare for unplanned disruptions in careers by developing an understanding that
change and instability are not negative and learning to anticipate both (ibid.;
- Provide role models for older employees
Older workers can increase their adaptability
through the use of role models who can help them learn new skills and serve as models
for making changes in their work identity (Gibson and Barron 2003).
- View career from a holistic and connected perspective, rather than thinking of it as a
fragmented entity separate from other aspects of life.
Hansen's (2001) model called Integrative Life Planning is based on six critical life tasks:
- finding work that needs doing in the changing global context;
- weaving one's life into a meaningful whole;
- connecting family and work;
- valuing pluralism and inclusivity;
- managing personal transitions and organizational change; and
- exploring spirituality, purpose, and meaning.
The approach to career development suggested by this model can help older
adults understand that their vocational identity does not need to be linked to a job
The career development of older adults is an area that needs further development.
Traditional theories of career development are being recast to fit contemporary
workplaces, but the bulk of research has focused on early career stages (Gibson and
Barron 2003). Clearly, more research and theory development are needed to
understand fully what career development interventions are appropriate for older adults.
This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S.
Department of Education under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0013. The content of this
publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of
Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations
imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Digests may be freely reproduced.
Brewington, J. O., and Nassar-McMillan, S. "Older Adults: Work-Related Issues and
Implications for Counseling." CAREER DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY 49, no. 1
(September 2000): 2-15.
Butler, C. B. "What Next? Post-Graduation Preparation for College Students in the Third
Age of Life." Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 2002.
Freedman, M. PRIME TIME. New York: Public Affairs, 2002.
Gibson, D. E., and Barron, L. A. "Exploring the Impact of Role Models on Older
Employees." CAREER DEVELOPMENT INTERNATIONAL 8, no. 4 (2003): 198-209.
Goldberg, B. AGE WORKS: WHAT CORPORATE AMERICA MUST DO TO SURVIVE THE GRAYING OF THE WORKFORCE. New York: Free Press, 2000. Hall, D. T. CAREERS IN AND OUT OF ORGANIZATIONS. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002.
Hansen, L. S. "Integrating Work, Family, and Community through Holistic Life Planning."
CAREER DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY 49, no. 3 (March 2001): 261-274.
Marshall, V., and Bonner, D. "Career Anchors and the Effects of Downsizing:
Implications for Generations and Cultures at Work. A Preliminary Investigation."
JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN INDUSTRIAL TRAINING 27, no. 6 (2003): 281-291.
Moen, P. "Recasting Careers: Changing Reference Groups, Risks, and Realities."
GENERATIONS 22, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 40-45.
Montenegro, X.; Fisher, L.; and Remez, S. STAYING AHEAD OF THE CURVE: THE
AARP WORK AND CAREER STUDY. A NATIONAL SURVEY CONDUCTED FOR
AARP BY ROPERASW. Washington, DC: American Association of Retired Persons,
Riverin-Simard, D. "Career Development in a Changing Context of the Second Part of
Working Life." In THE FUTURE OF CAREER, edited by A. Collin and R. A. Young.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Rix, S. E. "The Labor Market for Older Workers." GENERATIONS 26, no. 2 (Summer
Rocco, T. S.; Stein, D.; and Lee, C. "An Exploratory Examination of the Literature on
Age and HRD Policy Development." Workplace Issues in Human Resources.
Symposium 40. In ACADEMY OF HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT (AHRD)
CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS, TULSA, OKLAHOMA, FEBRUARY 28-MARCH 4,
2001, edited by O. A. Aliaga. Baton Rouge, LA: Academy of Human Resource
Development, 2001. (ED 453 450)
Uchitelle, L. "Older Workers Are Thriving Despite Recent Hard Times." NEW YORK
TIMES, September 8, 2003, pp. A1, A15.
Welch, N.; Schull, D. D.; Groggin, J.; and others. LIFE OPTIONS BLUEPRINT. San
Francisco, CA: Civic Ventures; New York, NY: Libraries for the Future; Phoenix:
Libraries for the Future Arizona; Scottsdale, AZ: Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, May
Menu Page |
Parenting the Next Generation