Working Across the Life Course

Annette Nierobisz
Carleton College


This course examines the experience of work from a life course perspective. This sociological approach encourages people to think about how society leaves its imprint on every stage of our individual lives. We incorporate this perspective by studying the meaning, experiences, and challenges of work at distinct stages in the life course.

Course Size:
less than 15

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution

Course Context:

This is a 300-level seminar that is directed at juniors and seniors who are beginning to think more concretely about the transition from college to work. Enrollment is capped at 15 students in order to encourage in-depth discussion of course material. Students are not expected to have a background in sociology, however, they will have
completed a formal course in social statistics or have a basic understanding of social science research methods. For non-SoAn majors, the course counts as a general education requirement. SoAn majors will fulfill one of their major requirements with this course.

Course Content:

We examine the questions that sociologists who study who study work and occupations ask about work in relation to four life course stages: adolescence, young adulthood, mid-life, and the senior years. For example, how does paid employment in the teenage years affect schoolwork and personal well-being? Do the occupational aspirations of today's college students match with the job structure of the contemporary labor market? What social patterns are evident in the senior experience of transitioning out of the labor force? In the process, students will gain insight into sociological theories and methods of research, and become better equipped at evaluating, constructing, and communicating empirical evidence.

Course Goals:

I have two major learning goals for this seminar. First, students will develop a better understanding of how sociologists study work and occupations. This includes the topics sociologists explore, the theories they employ, and the methods they use. Second, students will acquire a specific skill set that is related to quantitative literacy. At the conclusion of the course, students will have practice in locating statistical information; experience in presenting numerical information, both orally and in writing; an understanding of the ways in which statistical data are collected and analyzed; and experience with analyzing qualitative and quantitative data.

Course Features:

Students will complete three assignments (see syllabus below). A first assignment is a brief presentation of official statistics form the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Students will develop a topic, collect statistics on that topic from the BLS, and present this information to the class. A second assignment asks students to answer the question, should adolescents be combining work and school? They will complete this assignment by conducting two in-depth interviews and comparing the findings that emerge with academic literature on this issue. A third (but tentative) assignment asks students to respond to an article written in the Carletonian that argues for layoffs of Carleton employees who at 55-years of age or older. Students will complete this project in a series of smaller assignments that will be submitted throughout the term and culminate in one large paper that will be presented and submitted at the end of term.

Course Philosophy:

This course is taught as an upper-level seminar so that students will have multiple opportunities to discuss the material and reflect on the ideas that we generate. Given that we are currently experiencing a period of high unemployment, I hope to draw students who may otherwise not given much thought to the topic of work. By connecting the material to a "life course" perspective, students will examine with material that is directly relevant to their current stage of life.


Students will be assessed according to their performance on the three assignments, as well as their participation in class discussions.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 39kB Jan5 10)

References and Notes: