From ideal workers to ideal work for all: A 50-year review integrating careers and work-family research with a future research agenda


Kosseka, Ellen Ernst, Matthew Perrigino, and Alyson Gounden Rock. “From ideal workers to ideal work for all: A 50-year review integrating careers and work-family research with a future research agenda”. Journal of Vocational Behavior 126 (2021). Web. Copy at


Historically, the careers literature, (grounded in vocational psychology) and the work-family literature, rooted in industrial-organizational psychology and organizational behavior (IO/OB), were not well-integrated, developed at separate speeds, and differed in gender focus. Early career studies targeted men's careers, while work-family studies centered on women's careers. Both literatures assumed conformity to an Ideal Worker norm. Looking over fifty years, the goal of our paper is to conduct a review in order to identify commonalities and gaps, and suggest integrative lenses for future research. The 71 studies we identified that addressed both work-family and careers issues clustered into three main approaches: careers studies emphasizing vocational psychology lenses, work-family studies from IO/OB research, and dual-realm focused research that was usually from other disciplines. Surprisingly, two-thirds of the articles were conceptual, suggesting that integration is currently more aspirational than it is reality. Most empirical articles took a trade-off lensassuming an incompatibility between high dual role investments in career and family, which helps perpetuate ideal worker models. This gendered siloing of work-family and careers issues and the need for studies to address critical integrative problems was observed over fifty years ago in Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s seminal (1977) monograph, an agenda that our review suggests is still largely unrealized today. To guide the next decades' future research, we build on Kanter's prescient agenda, and propose expansion to four integrative lenses: Whole Life Demands-Resources; Linked-Lives of Family Life Course and Career Stages; Diversity, Intities; and Ideal Work in Changing Social, Technological, and Economic Contexts. Our agenda will help advance understanding of the pressing problems that affect the integration of employees' careers and work-family concerns, and the conditions that support the design and implementation of ideal work for all.

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Last updated on 08/03/2022