Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Ninety Years in the World of Work in America

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Ninety Years in the World of Work in America

Article excerpt

Parsons's tripartite model suggests that gaining information about the world of work is a critical factor in vocational decision making, This article compares and contrasts data from around 1909, when F. Parsons's Choosing a Vocation was published, with contemporary data on the workplace and the American worker. Data on other contextual factors, such as demographic trends, are also presented. There are surprising similarities between Parsons's time and the present, and also obvious differences. The author suggests that having information about occupations is still an essential component of career counseling, and ideas are presented for updating knowledge about the increasingly complex world of work.

Imagine that the year is 1909. Ping-pong, imported from China, is the latest fad. "The pinging of the ball against the racquet's hide / is answered by the ponging when it hits the other side. Where are you going, my pretty maid? / I'm going a ping-ponging, my sir, she said" (Panati, 1991, p. 54, as cited in the Denver Post and the Boston Post). In 1909, the favorite book of the average American was the Bible, followed by the Sears-Roebuck catalog. The most popular songs were, "Shine on Harvest Moon," and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The newest dances were called the "bunny hug," the "horse trot," the "camel walk," the "buzzard lope," the "chicken scratch," and the "kangaroo dip." In addition to these animal passions, the country was mad for the Teddy Bear, named affectionately for the President who refused to shoot a bear cub. (Question: "If Theodore Roosevelt is President with his clothes on, what is he with his clothes off? Answer: Teddy Bare." Panati, 1991, p. 56).

In the first decade of the twentieth century, chicken cost $.07 per pound, and a woman's corset cost $.40 (Panati, 1991). Among the labor saving devices people take for granted today, only three were available-the cooking range, the washing machine, and the vacuum cleaner (Thompkins, 1996). Smallpox and gastritis were major causes of death, along with catastrophic rates of infant and maternal mortality (Bureau of the Census, 1961; Shifflett, 1966). Apublic school teacher earned about $325 per year-even less if the teacher was a woman. There were 1,000 optometrists in the United States, and there were no occupational classifications for auto mechanics or social scientists. Although it is hard to imagine, in 1909 every American over the age of 45 had been alive during the Civil War (Panati, 1991).

It was during this earlier time, in 1908, that Frank Parsons opened the Vocations Bureau in Boston. Parsons's (1909) original work, Choosing a Vocation, stated "a vocational counselor should familiarize himself [sic] in a high degree with industrial knowledge" (p. 46). This included "lists and classifications of industries and vocations, the conditions of success in the various vocations, and general information about industries" (p. 46). Parsons's advice is surprisingly contemporary. Now, as then, it is important for career counselors to have a solid understanding of the world of work (Drummond & Ryan, 1995; McDaniels & Gysbers, 1992).

This article reviews some of the similarities between Parsons's time and the present day and, not unexpectedly, some major differences. When data are not available for the time around 1909, other comparative data are used. The article concludes with suggestions for how contemporary counselors can gain more knowledge about the increasingly complex working world and, in turn, offer more helpful skills and perspectives to their clients.

Overview of a Century of Change

The latter half of the twentieth century was a time of tumultuous and confusing change for the entire world. Many Americans, however, have lost sight of the profound growing pains that the nation experienced in the first decade of the twentieth century. It was a time of great contrasts. The car, the airplane, and the subway were invented, yet child labor was legal, and women were not allowed to vote. …

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