Using Gottfredson’s Theory of Circumscription and Compromise at the Elementary Level

By Glenda S. Johnson

Professional school counselors (PSCs) provide college and career readiness services to students K-12 as a component of a comprehensive school counseling program (ASCA, 2012). Career exploration is often a focus at the elementary level due to the students’ age and developmental level. However, as opposed to eagerly exploring a variety of careers, Gottfredson (1981) theorized that children at the elementary age reject certain careers due to the societal messages they receive. PSCs can impact elementary aged students’ willingness to consider a wider range of careers by planning activities that expose children to role models that mitigates possible stereotypical views held by societal influences.


Gottfredson’s Theory of Circumscription and Compromise

Gottfredson (1981) explains that children progress through four stages of career development:

  • Stage 1 (ages 3 – 5) Orientation to Size and Power
  • Stage 2 (ages 6 – 8) Orientation to Sex Roles
  • Stage 3 (ages 9 – 13) Orientation to Social Valuation
  • Stage 4 (ages 14 and older) Orientation to Internal Unique Self

During Stage 1, children see jobs as held by grown-ups.  In Stage 2, children see certain jobs as appropriate to whether one is male or female. Stage 3 (i.e., sensitivity to prestige and status) brings an attachment of status or prestige to certain types of jobs. At this time children begin to eliminate some jobs because they do not fit their idea of an appropriate job based on the child’s sex or level of prestige desired. Lastly, during Stage 4, adolescents begin to consider their interests, abilities, and values surrounding the type of job they desire. However, at this final stage many occupations have been ruled out at previous stages.  Therefore, it is important that PSCs intentionally expose students at the elementary level to a wide variety of career activities that highlight role models in non-traditional roles. Organizing a career day is an excellent way to introduce elementary aged students to non-traditional career role models.


Planning a Career Day That Includes Non-Traditional Role Models

Many PSCs use career days as a way to expose elementary aged students to a variety of careers. With increased focus and planning, elementary aged children can be exposed to role models that work in non-traditional roles (Ivers, Milsom, & Newsome, 2012). Although, the social construct of non-traditional careers based on gender, status, and prestige is often further defined by the community in which the students live, PSCs can look to the larger society’s definition of non-traditional career roles based on gender, prestige, and status to find representative participants. A male nurse is one example of a non-traditional career that children are not exposed to on a regular basis. Therefore, when planning career day, PSCs can specifically look for nurses in the area that are also male or posting pictures of nurses that are also male when advertising career day.

Career day can be a fun, exciting, and informative event for PCSs, students and staff alike. However, when planning a career day with a focus on spotlighting non-traditional careers, finding speakers may present a challenge. One way to address this challenge is to consider a virtual career day experience for elementary aged students. For example, PSCs can explore the idea of guest participation through the use of Skype. The session could be shown in a classroom or auditorium. Other activities to consider at this level may include age appropriate career days, classroom guidance lessons, small group counseling, and individual career planning. With intentional thoughtful planning, PSCs can expose elementary aged students to a wide variety of non-traditional career models as they continue to develop their sense of self in relation to future career options.


Expand Career Options

Career exploration is an area of focus for professional school counselors (PSCs) who provide a comprehensive school counseling program (CSCP) for elementary aged students (ASCA, 2012).  A wide variety of activities can be use to assist students in exploring many career options. However, according to Gottfredson’s theory of circumscription and compromise, children eliminate many careers based on societal influences before full exploration actually occurs (Gottfredson, 1981). Planning a career day with a focus on exposing children to a variety of speakers from non-traditional career roles may be an effective intervention to expand the possible career options available for consideration at this developmental level.



Gottfredson, L. S. (1981). Circumscription and compromise: A developmental theory of occupational aspirations.  Journal of Counseling Psychology Monograph, (28), 6, 545 – 579.

American School Counselor Association. (2012). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.

Ivers, N. N., Milsom, A., & Newsome, D. W. (2012). Using Gottfredson’s theory of circumscription and compromise to improve Latino students’ success. The Career Development Quarterly, 60, 231 – 242.



Glenda JohnsonGlenda Johnson is an assistant professor in the Human Development & Psychological Counseling Department at Appalachian State University (ASU).  Dr. Johnson is licensed in the state of North Carolina as both a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and a professional school counselor (PSC).  Prior to becoming faculty at ASU, Dr. Johnson worked in the state of Texas as a PSC (17 yrs.), LPC (3 yrs.), and an adjunct professor at Sam Houston State University (1 yr.). johnsong@appstate.edu



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1 Comment

Nezhla B. Momayezi   on Wednesday 12/07/2016 at 09:42 PM

Thank you for your invaluable information to help our students see a wider horizon and become their best.

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