Initially called “vocational maturity,” the construct now known as career maturity (CM) was proposed by Donald Super more than 50 years ago. In the context of developmental theories current at the time, Super saw careers as unfolding in a series of developmental stages, with each stage characterized by certain tasks. The developmental task of relating knowledge of oneself to knowledge of occupations was referred to as “specifying a choice.” Within Super’s framework, individuals are career mature or ready to make appropriate choices when they have engaged in planful exploration and have appropriate occupational knowledge, self-knowledge, and decision-making knowledge.
In specifying the sets of tasks, Super also thought about how progress in these tasks might be measured so that individuals could be compared both ipsatively and with others at the same developmental stage and therefore theoretically undertaking the same tasks. Almost all instrument development and much of the research related to the CM construct has addressed the latter kind of comparison. A number of measures of CM, most often closely aligned with Super’s theories, have been developed for use with adolescents and adults.
One of the largest areas of research into CM has been in relation to the constructs with which it is related. Research into the CM construct and its correlates is now well into its fifth decade. Correlates that have received recurring attention include age, level of education, gender, socioeconomic status, and a wide spectrum of career-related variables, such as vocational identity, career decision, career indecision, and work role salience. Findings of large bodies of international research in relation to age and gender have produced equivocal findings, although in general, career maturity scores in adolescents increase with age, and overall, the development of CM seems to differ for females and males. While socioeconomic status has been theorized as likely to be an important determinant of career behavior, even if acting largely through moderator variables, most studies have found only a minor or no correlation between CM and socioeconomic status in school-age adolescents and in university students. Several studies have reported that students who were more mature were also more career decided. Similarly, studies have reported that career indecision was the single most important predictor variable of career-immature young people.
A number of studies have investigated whether the amount of part-time work in high school is able to predict CM. Findings have been mixed, with some studies demonstrating no relationship between individuals who did a large amount of part-time work and levels of CM and other studies reporting higher mean scores on CM for students with work experience than for students without. It has been suggested that young people will benefit from part-time employment only when the job area is congruent with their career aspirations.
While research has been conducted on the relevance of CM in ethnic groups within the United States, very little work has been conducted outside the United States to explore its relevance across cultures. Although studies have been conducted in Nigeria, Israel, Lebanon, India, Canada, and Australia, there have been few studies of comparison across cultures. However, a considerable body of work from South Africa has consistently shown that Black high school and university students are less career mature than their White counterparts. Researchers have suggested that measures of CM may be oriented to Western White values and need to focus more broadly on life role salience.
Super envisioned that the relative importance assigned by individuals to roles at different stages of their lives would govern their commitment to and involvement in tasks associated with the roles, as well as the rewards they expected to experience in the roles. Very few studies have examined the relationship between the salience of student or worker roles to aspects of CM. Only a few studies of relationships between these constructs have been reported, with those studies reporting the relationships expected between student and work role salience and aspects of CM.
Recent Conceptualizations of Career Maturity
With the acknowledgment of the notion that careers evolve in a social context, the 1980s saw a concentrated move to extend theory to situate careers in social contexts and define their relationships with historical eras, geographical locations, race, and culture. A number of authors emphasized the importance of social ecology in careers and stressed the reciprocity of individual and societal development, meaning that the social context is important in the individual’s development and the individual is important in the development of social contexts. In addition, the individual and the context may change. The timing of the interaction between the organism and the environment, not sufficiently captured in the portrayal of CM as based on time- and age-based stage models, is an important underpinning of a number of recent theoretical formulations. Research has also demonstrated that CM is influenced by differences in social and political systems.
Constructivists have encouraged career theorists to assist individuals in consciously working to construct their own development. Specifying a career choice involves more than just the cognitive activity of aligning self- and occupational information. This activity takes place within a larger story that engages the sociocultural context of the individual. The individual’s career story is the collection of images of the way the individual sees himself or herself in the world. Whereas the informational aspects of the self (e.g., interest, abilities) and of the world of work constitute the content of the story, the individual’s constructions of these and the positioning of them within the story—the individual’s narrative about self— provide its uniqueness for each individual. And it is the individual’s understanding of his or her role in the construction of the story that is a signal point for the traditional construct of CM.
As shown in this review, the construct of CM has received considerable theoretical, conceptual, and research attention, including suggestions for ways in which it can be enhanced to make it more appropriate in times of changing career patterns and more applicable to a wider range of societal groups. The importance of taking contextual factors into account was part of Super’s original formulation of the construct, as was the idea of adjustment as a component of mature behavior. In his later writings, Super himself proposed a change in terminology from “career maturity” to “career adaptability” to better convey the range of career-related attitudes, knowledge, and skills at the various stages and transition points in career development.
The amount of research that continues to be reported on CM, almost 50 years since the construct was first proposed, is indicative of its importance in our understanding of career behavior. The construct has matured to a point where it may change in name or form to better reflect the changing world of work in the twenty-first century. However, it is likely that Super’s principles will remain central to any reformulation.
- Career salience
- Continuing professional education
- Erikson’s theory of development
- Super’s career development theory
- Niles, S. G. 1998. “Special Section Introduction: Time and Timing in Career Development.” Career Development Quarterly 47:4-5.
- Patton, W. and Lokan, J. 2001. “Perspectives on Donald Super’s Construct of Career Maturity.” International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance 1(1-2): 31-48.
- Raskin, P. M. 1998. “Career Maturity: The Construct’s Validity, Vitality, and Viability.” Career Development Quarterly 47:32-35.
- Savickas, M. L. 2002. “Career Construction: A Developmental Theory of Vocational Behavior.” Pp. 149-205 in Career Choice and Development, 4th ed., edited by D. Brown and Associates. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Super, D. E., Savickas, M. L. and Super, C. M. 1996. “The Life-span Life-space Approach to Careers.” Pp. 121-178 in Career Choice and Development, 3d ed., edited by D. Brown, L. Brooks and Associates. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.