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Super's theory

One of Donald Super’s greatest contributions to career development has been his emphasis on the importance of the development of self-concept. According to Super, self-concept changes over time, and develops as a result of experience. As such, career development is lifelong.

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Hover your mouse over each stage to read more about its characteristics

Super developed the theories and work of colleague Eli Ginzberg – he thought that Ginzberg’s work had weaknesses, which he wanted to address. Super extended Ginzberg’s life and career development stages from three to five, and included different substages.

Super argues that occupational preferences and competencies, along with an individual’s life situations, all change with time and experience. Super developed the concept of vocational maturity, which may or may not correspond to chronological age: people cycle through each of these stages when they go through career transitions.

Super’s five life and career development stages

Stage Age        Characteristics
Growth birth-14 Development of self-concept, attitudes, needs and general world of work
Exploration 15-24 "Trying out" through classes, work hobbies. Tentative choice and skill development
Establishment 25-44 Entry-level skill building and stabilisation through work experience
Maintenance 45-64 Continual adjustment process to improve position
Decline 65+ Reduced output, prepare for retirement


Developmental tasks at these different stages

Life stage

Adolescence 14-25

Early adulthood 25-45

Middle adulthood 45-65

Late adulthood 65+
Decline Giving less time to hobbies Reducing sports participation Focusing on essentials Reducing working hours
Maintenance Verifying current occupational choice Making occupational position secure Holding one's own against competition Keeping what one enjoys
Establishment Getting started in a chosen field Settling down in a suitable position Developing new skills Doing things one has wanted to do
Exploration Learning more about opportunities Finding desired opportunity Identifying new tasks to work on Finding a good retirement place
Growth Developing a realistic self-concept Learning to relate to others Accepting one's own limitations Developing and valuing non-occupational roles


Super states that in making a vocational choice individuals are expressing their self-concept, or understanding of self, which evolves over time. People seek career satisfaction through work roles in which they can express themselves and further implement and develop their self-concept.


  • Brown, D, and Brooks, L (Eds), ‘Career Choice and Development: Applying Contemporary Theories to Practice’, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
  • Department of Employment Services, ‘Developmental Theories’, accessed December 2008, (http://does.dc.gov).

Updated 2 Feb 2012