How Occupational Choice Changes with Age

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  • 0:01 Careers
  • 1:15 Teens and Twenties
  • 3:05 Thirties to Fifties
  • 4:28 Fifties and Older
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson, we will examine some of the changes that occur to occupational choices as we age. In our youth, we just want a job for cash, but as we age, we begin to want more.


We all have to make choices growing up. Some of us know what we want to do from an early age, while some of us are still trying to figure out what we want to do. Life doesn't come with an instruction manual or cheat codes. Although, even if it did come with an instruction manual, I think most of us would try and rebel against it and break out on our own, making the whole idea moot anyway.

Over the course of our life, we need to pick a career. Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler and Tipton in 1985 published Habits of the Heart, which broke up work into three main categories. Jobs, according to the authors, are positions held by people only interested in material benefits. Careers are positions held by people who feel a deep, personal investment in their work but still mark their achievement by monetary gains, and callings are people who hold positions that are difficult to separate from their personal life. I think these provide a good idea of how people think about what they want to do for work.

Let's look at how occupation changes over a lifetime.

Teens and Twenties

Youth is a time for exploration and experimentation. It is a time where you start yourself down the path you most likely will follow. Many people in this age group have a few things they focus on, including:

  • Locating a career path
  • Establishing a family
  • Large purchases

Individuals in their teens and 20s are looking to figure out what they want to do. They take prep courses in high school, and for those who want or need education for their career path, they go to college. All of them experiment with different occupational ideas in their mind. Some settle into careers because they want quick and easy money, while others put off earning money to continue school. I've been in school now for. . . many, many years.

Younger people are also looking to get married and start a family of their own. This affects their choice of occupation. If, for instance, a person's beloved is tied to a place geographically, then they are too. This limits options and makes occupational choices, as we previously discussed, more limited.

The last item is large purchases, which I threw in here because people in their 20s are typically thinking about buying cars, houses and having babies. Babies are really expensive, and people often weigh having children like making a large purchase. When people want to make these choices, they must balance between career options. One can't easily buy a house and continue on in graduate school; both take a lot of resources. That means if someone wants to make a large purchase, they need cash in hand, so to speak. This all comes together to influence the occupational choice of the individual, whether to go into a career now or put it off for more education.

Thirties to Fifties

Every individual is different, and these age categories are just roundabout categories; they need not be specific to you. However, around the ages of 30-50, individuals generally begin to change their thinking. They aren't as young as they used to be, and there are certain societal expectations of them. To this end, a shift occurs in occupation choices. Focus is put on:

  • Planning for retirement
  • Fulfilling work

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