Anne Roe

Working at a time when few women were active as researchers, Anne Roe provided a different perspective on career choice and adjustment and is now credited as being the forerunner of a psychodynamic perspective. Roe was particularly interested in individual psychological differences between people and utilized research and statistical methods. From the 1930s, she engaged in a range of clinical psychology research, for example, in investigating intelligence and learning disability, the correlates of alcoholism, the personality of artists, and the psychology of creativity. This diversity and working separately from the mainstream of counseling psychology enabled her to approach the topic of career choice in a fresh way.

In 1956, she wrote The Psychology of Occupations, which outlined her understanding of the role of occupations in both society and individual lives, early experiences and their influence on career patterns, and occupational groups. This work evolved from a systematic study of well-known research scientists and artists, where she gathered extensive retrospective developmental accounts to enable her to identify factors involved in career choice. The book publicized the two main strands of her theorizing about careers: the classification of occupations and the origins of career needs and interests.

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Roe sought a scheme for categorizing occupations and was dissatisfied with those in existence because they were lists rather than being underpinned by an organizing rationale. She therefore considered research that had used factor analysis and developed eight occupational groups titled service, business contact, organization, technology, outdoor, the sciences, general culture, and arts and entertainment (labeled as groups I-VIII). Roe postulated that the first three and last two groups were careers orientated toward people, whereas groups IV, V, and VI were more orientated away from people. She arranged these eight groups into a circle rather than into a list. She developed this work further by suggesting six levels of occupation depending on level of responsibility, aptitudes, and skills, which she represented as layers below the circle (in a cone shape). Level 6 (the lowest) represented unskilled jobs that she believed were less differentiated than the higher levels, with level 1 representing professional and managerial jobs. Her classification groups were used both in many practical applications (e.g., to develop interest tests, group college programs, and as a basis for careers education) and generated research into a number of aspects (e.g., career aspirations of high school pupils, occupational change, and sex-role stereotyping).

Roe’s ideas about the links between occupational choice and developmental (especially parental-family) determinants have led to extensive debate in the field, with limited research support. Roe focused on the influence of personal experiences of varied parental attitudes in the early years to propose the individual channeling involuntary attention toward people or toward other phenomena. She believed that the degree to which parents concentrated emotions on the child (being overprotective or overdemanding), accepted (in either a loving or casual way), or avoided the child (via emotional rejection or neglect) determined the way in which the child’s subsequent needs and interests would be channeled and affected communication and organizational skills.

Over a number of years, Roe and her associates developed two versions of the Personal-Child Relations Questionnaire to enable parental attitudes to be investigated, leading to scores on scales (two bipolar and one unipolar): loving-rejecting, casual-demanding, and overt attention. The complexity of differences in influence between two parents, differences over time, differences depending on sex of parent and child, and the limitations of retrospective accounts have all had an impact on the challenges of using this approach in career counseling. Roe herself acknowledged that her theories were less applicable to the complexities of women’s and minority groups’ career development. Many career counselors credit Roe with highlighting of familial determinants and considerations of life history in career choice processes. In her later work, she devised a formula that was inclusive of a wider range of variables that enter career choice processes and allowed for the shifted weighting of these over the life span.


  1. Brown, M. T., Lum, J. L., & Kim, V. (1997). Roe revisited: A call for the reappraisal of the theory of personality development and career choice. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 51, 283-294.
  2. Roe, A., & Lunneborg, P. W. (1990). Personality development and career choice. In D. Brown & L. Brooks (Eds.), Career choice and development (2nd ed., pp. 68-101). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  3. Sharf, R. S. (2007). Applying career development theory to counseling. Belmont, CA: Thomson.
  4. Simpson, E. L. (1980). Occupational endeavour as life history: Anne Roe. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 5(1), 116-126.
  5. Wrenn, R. L. (1985). The evolution of Anne Roe. Journal of Counseling and Development, 63(5), 267-275.

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