Department of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship Seminar Series

A Dream Deferred? How People with Work Devotion and Family Aspirations Experience and Navigate Career Decision-Making


Assistant Professor Carrie Oelberger


University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Time & Place

Wed, 01 May 2019 11:30:00 NZST in Room 236, Meremere

All are welcome


I examine career decision-making for people who are extremely devoted to work, but who also desire richer personal relationships, what I come to call family aspirations.

Using detailed longitudinal case studies following 82 international aid workers over seven years, I analyze how respondents experienced and coped with a clash between their work devotion and their family aspirations. I find that respondents fear losing the sense of purpose that meaningful work provides in their lives without a highly probable alternative. As a result, even after a protracted process of deep reflection, many people with strong family aspirations choose to prioritize work. Moreover, I detail that the decision-making process is experienced divergently, even among people with the same strength of family aspirations and work devotion. In particular, I find that those who perceived a more constrained set of possibilities to realize their family aspirations – including those with minority social identities and heterosexual women – experience greater emotional turmoil and cognitive drain during the process. This finding suggests that it is not only labor market outcomes that are beset with inequality, but that people differentially experience angst during career decision-making processes.


Carrie Oelberger is an Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Her research examines the dynamics of work and organizing in the nonprofit sector. She is currently examining when, why, and how employees draw upon their work as a source of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose in their lives, as well as how they experience and navigate tensions between their work devotion and personal or family aspirations. She received her PhD in organization studies and her MA in sociology from Stanford University in California and her PGDip in Māori and Pacific Nations Education from Victoria University in Wellington.