From 'work-family' to 'flexible careers'- A life course reframing

Phyllis Moen, Stephen Sweet

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

136 Scopus citations


In this paper we introduce key concepts that inform a life course perspective, including its focus on the temporal organization of career paths and life biographies. We demonstrate the value of a life course approach to theorizing about, studying, and considering work-family arrangements and their policy implications. To do so we draw primarily on findings from studies undertaken using the Ecology of Careers Study funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The value of both the life course and career concepts comes in recognizing the dynamics of the work-family interface, as well as the need to address and redress the mismatch between the new workforce and outmoded labour market policies as they occur at all multi-layered stages of workers' biographies. Drawing on this perspective, and concentrating on the USA in comparison with select European countries, we argue that 'work-family' policy and research agendas for the twenty-first century need to be recast from the current 'work' and 'family' dichotomy to a more complex view of careers in context. Careers are not only dynamic and relational, they are also embedded within existing gender, occupational, and labour market regimes as well as within changes in the workforce, the workplace, and temporal boundaries. Existing policy and practice in the USA reveal cultural lags in responding to concerns of gender, family, and work, as well as prospects for meaningful change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-226
Number of pages18
JournalCommunity, Work and Family
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This is a revised version of a paper presented at the Sloan Work and Family Network Conference on Work Hours held at the Cornell Club in New York City, 21 October 2002. Support was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (grants #96-6-9, 99-6-23, B2001-50, 2002-6-8) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA #2P50-AG11711). The authors thank Margo Ramlal-Nankoe, Paul Callister, Wipas Wimon-sate, Sarah Demo, Carrie Chalmers, and Sarah Collins.


  • Career
  • Family
  • Gender
  • Life course
  • Policy
  • Work


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