The Career Theories of Eli Ginzberg

Eli Ginzberg believed people experience different stages of career development.
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The career theories of Eli Ginzberg, an economist working on a grant from Columbia University, were developed in 1951. The grant allowed Ginzberg to study occupational choice, interviewing upper middle class young men because of their privilege to choose their careers. This research led to the publication of "Occupational Choice: An Approach to a General Theory." Ginzberg believed studying the privileged would reveal the processes by which individuals choose careers, from early childhood to early adulthood.


    Ginzberg's first milestone in career development takes place during childhood, from birth to 11 years old. During this stage, children primarily engage in playful acts, simulating occupations such as firefighter, police officer, race car driver, etc. Ginzberg believed children transition from playful imitiation to work imitation near the end of this stage, i.e. from simply wearing costumes to acting out the specific duties of a job.


    From 11 to 17 years of age, adolescent children are able to better focus on, and recognize, work requirements. There are four stages in this period. The first stage is "interest," where children learn likes and dislikes. The second stage is "capacity," where the child learns how much her abilities align with her interests. The third stage, "values," sees the child at 15 become aware of how work may fulfill her values. The final stage of this period is called "transition," and begins when the individual assumes responsibility for her own actions, becomes independent and exercises her freedom of choice.


    The realistic period begins at age 17 and goes into the early 20s. During this stage, the person establishes alternative paths in her work life, or a "backup plan." Throughout this three stage period, she will develop personal values and begin to zero in on her optimal career choice. The first period of the realistic stage is "exploration." During this stage, the individual choose her career path but remains open to other opportunities. The next stage, "crystallization," is when she becomes more engrossed in a particular career, committing to one direction more than she ever has. The third period is "specification," in which she commits to or develops a preference for a specific area of her occupation.

Ginzberg's Optimization

    Eventually Ginzberg rescinded his early assumptions that the occupational decision making process was limited to adolescence and early adulthood, accounting instead for mid-life crisis changes in careers or after-retirement occupation changes. Therefore the occupational decision process extends throughout an entire lifetime. Instead of compromising, Ginzberg reconsidered, people optimize.

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