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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

StageAge        Characteristics
Growthbirth-14Development of self-concept, attitudes, needs and general world of work
Exploration15-24"Trying out" through classes, work hobbies. Tentative choice and skill development
Establishment25-44Entry-level skill building and stabilisation through work experience
Maintenance45-64Continual adjustment process to improve position
Decline65+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+
DeclineGiving less time to hobbiesReducing sports participationFocusing on essentialsReducing working hours
MaintenanceVerifying current occupational choiceMaking occupational position secureHolding one's own against competitionKeeping what one enjoys
EstablishmentGetting started in a chosen fieldSettling down in a suitable positionDeveloping new skillsDoing things one has wanted to do
ExplorationLearning more about opportunitiesFinding desired opportunityIdentifying new tasks to work onFinding a good retirement place
GrowthDeveloping a realistic self-conceptLearning to relate to othersAccepting one's own limitationsDeveloping 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