It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

Theory of Career Choice and Development

Anne Roe 1956


In some ways Roe mirrors matching approaches as she divided her theory up in two main areas:

  1. the theoretical aspects of personality
  2. the classification of occupations

This was very much a sign of the times she conceived her theory in. Inspired by Maslow, she integrated a 3rd element:

  1. the psychological needs that develop out of the child-parent relationship

Parent child relationship

In turn, she divided up the child parent relationship in 3 categories (see illustration below):

  1. Emotional concentration on the child which is either:
    • overprotective
    • overdemanding
  2. Avoidance of the child which is either:
    • emotional rejection
    • neglect
  3. Acceptance of the child which is either:
    • casual acceptance
    • loving acceptance

From these kinds of relationships she argued, children either develop an orientation towards people or not towards people. At this point, if you like, it may be interesting to compare this theory with the developmental theory of Gottfredson and see what you think if you compare the two. We’ll come back to this later.

Anne Roe Theory of Career Choice and Development.

Roe was also not satisfied with the classification system for occupations. She developed an entirely new occupational classification system so she could test her theory and integrate it with her theoretical development around the child-parent relationship. Roe developed a classification system that consisted of 8 groups or categories and 6 levels:

Anne Roe's Theory of Career Choice and Development and the Occupations Categories overview.

Roe related her occupational classification to her theory on the parent-child relationship. A summary of how this looks graphically:

Roe's child experiences & occupational choice within career guidance theory.

If you look at this illustration carefully you can see that at the centre is the first illustration on this page, that of the parent-child relationship and its 6 implications. Around this are the two personality categories or orientations either towards people or not towards people. Someone who is oriented towards people can be oriented mainly:

  • towards the self
  • towards others
  • towards the self and others

From this point it should be clear that this has implications for occupational choice. So on top of these orientations are mapped the six different occupational groups Roe developed. At the same time it’s important to be careful in how to read this. For instance: it’s not because someone is interested in the outdoors that they have been emotionally neglected. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to work with people. In fact, quite a lot of career options linked to the outdoors are strongly linked to working with people, for instance outdoor sports instructor or guide. My interpretation is that the way this can be read in a more accurate and productive way is from the centre outwards. For instance, someone who has been emotionally neglected is more likely to not want a job that involves working closely with a lot of people and therefore may be more interested in some careers linked to the category ‘outdoors’.

To come back to Gottfredson’s theory of circumscription and compromise; the conclusions Linda Gottfredson draws are very different to Roe, but so is her starting point. Roe’s starting point is focused on the emotional/functional relationship between parent and child whereas Gottfredson’s focus is entirely on learning by the child with the parent as a focus for career development. Gottfredson also argues for a genetic and social influence on child development whereas Roe bases the ‘career thinking’ of the child on the relationship with the parent. The categorisation of the child’s career focus both conclude is therefore very different. Roe seems to conclude that children respond to the example message the parent conveys on them in their behaviour and attitude. Gottfredson seems to take the view that to some extent at least (genetic influence and wider social influence) the way children develop their career learning is not uniquely linked to the parent-child relationship.


Roe’s theory in practice

I feel that, looking at the last illustration above, putting the Theory of Career Choice and Development in practice is almost self evident… almost. If you look at this logically, then you could explore where someone fits in within the different ways they have been brought up. And there is the first issue if we’re going to do that. It’s difficult to find out whether someone has been neglected in many cases, to put it bluntly. Especially when that client doesn’t perceive it that way.

Imagine we can find out where the client fits in, then at first sight our job becomes slightly easier. At first sight… As I mentioned above, it’s not because someone is interested in the outdoors that they have been neglected. The other way round could be more likely: that if someone has been neglected they don’t want to work in an occupation that involves a lot of contact with people and they may as a result be more interested in working in the outdoors, away from people. However, a lot of positions in the outdoors still require a lot of contact with people and suggesting or thinking that if someone has been neglected they don’t want to work with people is at best a bit presumptuous and at worst really crass. In fact, in my experience, clients who have had a terrible childhood often do want to work with people especially because of this. They feel they understand more and want to help prevent what happened to them from happening to other people. In my practice it’s not at all uncommon to find out that, when someone says they want to be a counsellor, they have had a hard childhood.

So, even though we can logically apply Roe’s theory in this way, it would be wise to be very, very careful not to make any undue assumptions or in some cases mirror our on situation onto the client.

I think one thing Roe’s theory clearly offers to professionals is an awareness of a classification of occupations and the different levels within. If nothing else, this gives us a framework to use with the client. Within that, we can then explore the client’s situation, preferences, skills and aptitudes and relate this to the classification of occupations. I think that by reading this, you will have had a lightbulb come on in your mind in that it’s starting to look like a matching theory in practice. Roe is trying to build this up from a basis in psychology, and more precise, developmental psychology.

Another aspect of occupational choice and planning Roe brings into our awareness is the influence of parenting on the client’s outlook on life, their preferences and how they are based in the client’s specific experience of the parent-child relationship.



In addition to the critique I implied above in describing the limitations of using this theory in practice, I would strongly suggest reading the critique on this website. However! Be aware that this is someone else’s critique and thoughts and it’s therefor important to compose your own critique of the critique as it were. You would need to form your own ideas on what you are reading is right. As per usual, also evaluate Roe’s Theory of Career Choice and Development in view of Brown’s criteria.


Useful links

Slideshare type resources:


  • Osipow, S.H. and Fitzgerald, L.F. (1996). Theories of career development. Boston: Allyn And Bacon.