How ‘flexible’ are careers in the anticipated life course of young people?

Bridging literature that addresses the work–family interface and the changing nature of careers, this article examines, from a life course perspective, the extent to which, and why, young people anticipate careers as ‘flexible’. Drawing on 123 interviews with men and women engaged in different post-secondary education pathways in Australia, the study draws attention to the role of gender and to some extent class in shaping careers in a network of social relations. Three dimensions of flexible careers are examined: temporal, that is, through imagined possibilities in various stages of early adulthood; structural, including opportunities and constraints afforded by different industry sectors and workplaces; and relational, in terms of household-level role negotiations. The findings revealed that women continue to adapt their career goals to accommodate care, but that both men’s and women’s careers are shaped by contingencies including household income, home ownership, access to flexible work and ideological expectations of market/family work roles. These contextual dynamics directly impact on decisions in the present. The article underscores the need for an expanded research focus on work and care from a life course perspective in order to promote career flexibility in ways that align with young people’s broader aspirations for gender equality.


Author(s) P.K. McDonald
Language English
Year of publication May, 2017
Journal Human Relations
Volume 2017
Page(s) 24
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