How did Margaret Thatcher become Prime Minister? A discussion of her life with reference to Daniel Levinsons Phases of Adult Life Development and Astins Career Model and their relevance to choices in Margaret Thatchers life and car

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Edward Whiteley                Career Management                


How did Margaret Thatcher become Prime Minister? A discussion of her life with reference to Daniel Levinson’s Phases of Adult Life Development and Astin’s Career Model and their relevance to choices in Margaret Thatcher’s life and career development.



The aim of this essay is to explore the life of Margaret Thatcher within the framework of career development theory. Key to this is examining the relationships and series of events that led to her rising from “the Grocer’s Daughter” (The Woman Within, Andrew Thomson) to the Prime Minister of Britain. Why did Margaret Thatcher become Britain’s first female Prime Minister? What featured in her upbringing that gave birth to such a dream and who was responsible for nurturing and encouraging these aspirations? By answering these questions I hope to see why Margaret Thatcher rose to become one of the most influential women in the political history of this country.

Margaret Thatcher: a Brief Biography

1925 Margaret Hilda Roberts was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire on October 13.


1936 Attended Kesteven & Grantham Girls’ School.


1943 Accepted into Somerville, Oxford to study Chemistry.

1946 First woman to chair the Oxford University Conservative Association.

1950 Worked as a research chemist. Stood unsuccessfully as Tory candidate for Dartford.


1951 Married entrepreneur Dennis Thatcher.


1953 Gave birth to twins Mark and Carol. She began to study law.


1959 Won the parliamentary seat of Finchley.


1970 Became Education Minister.


1975 Won the leadership of the Conservative Party.


1976 A speech about the Iron Curtain becomes a major event as Pravda dubbed Margaret Thatcher the Iron Lady.

1979 Became Britain's first woman Prime Minister.


1982 Britain won the Falklands War resulting in an increase in her popularity. 

1983 Conservative Party won a landslide election.


1987 Record third general election victory.


1990 Following a challenge to her leadership, Margaret Thatcher resigned and was succeeded by John Major.


1992 Entered the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher.



The two main theories that will be discussed are those of adulthood development as outlined by Daniel Levinson in his book A Season’s of a Man’s Life (1978) as well as the work of Astin (1984) and her model of career choice and work development. Through referenced examples from her life this essay will attempt to highlight how the choices made by Margaret Thatcher can be examined using the framework of these two theories.

Particular focus will be given to Astin’s work when examining the childhood and early years of Thatcher’s adult life. Levinson’s life cycle theory will be applied to her life post 17. There are some similarities in the two theories and these will be brought out later in the essay.

Astin’s model is often referred to in research into men’s career development. When developing her model Astin took the view that both psychological and sociological factors interact to impact on the career choice and work behaviour of the individual, specific emphasis was being given to the relationship between psychological and cultural-environmental factors. The reason for the importance in work choice is that “work fulfils certain needs survival, pleasure and contribution” (A Test of Astin’s Career Development Model Mandy Man-Nor Hoi, Bryan Hiebert). Below are the four related factors:

Work motivation                  Sex-role socialisation             Structure of opportunity

   Survival                                Play                               Distribution of jobs

   Pleasure                                 Family                               Sex typing of jobs

   Contribution                                School                               Job requirements

                                        Work                               Economy

                                                                       Family structure

                                                                       Reproductive technology




There are two final elements that make up the foundations of Astin’s Model. The idea of the individual’s work expectations (note this is not viewed purely as a list of all the possibilities available to a person with a specific set of skills). More precisely it is the individual’s perception of his own abilities and skills and of the opportunities available to them. This distinction is of great importance as it emphasises the individuality of each person’s situation. Therefore two people of the same skills and available opportunities may view their own situations very differently. This perception is influenced by the relationship between sex-role socialisation and structure of opportunity.

The final element of the model is that Astin believed that the socialisation of the individual is greatly influenced by their early childhood relationships. Socialisation is, in essence, learning (Charon, 1987:63-69). It is the process whereby people acquire a social identity and learn the way of life within their society. Astin stated that when growing up children are encouraged to undertake gender-specific activities. This can be as simple as boys being encouraged to play outside. Reinforcement at such a young age for this kind of behaviour is likely to have a significant impact on the socialisation of the individual. How and whether this reinforcement takes place is determined by the relationships that form between the individual and their family as well as supportive figures outside the family i.e. mentors. This importance of one’s relationships with others will arise again when looking at Levinson’s theory, especially the mentor relationship. This aspect of socialisation is often referred to as primary socialisation; that is socialisation during childhood. Secondary socialisation, later in adulthood, whilst being a very significant time of change and development in one’s life does not have the same impact in terms of personal development as primary socialisation.

In his book Levinson prefers to look at life as a cycle within which there are various seasons. When developing this theory he mentions two other terms that are often viewed as being synonymous with life cycle, those are life span and life course. However there are important differences between these three terms. Life span is simply the time period between birth and death. Levinson referred to life course as being “the flow of individual life over time” (Levinson 1978). Life cycle has two key foundations; the first is the idea of life being a process that takes place during a person’s life span. During that process there are an unlimited number of variations and processes that may occur and alter the development process of that individual. Secondly is the idea of the seasons. It is not to say that there are a set of repeating events as with spring, summer, autumn and winter but that one’s life is impacted through a number of relatively stable periods. Each will be distinctly different from the other and whilst he stated that each period is relatively stable it cannot therefore be assumed that each period suddenly begins as the previous one ends. There is progression within each period, most notably at the beginning of the new season and the transition into the next.

The diagram below outlines the seasons as seen by Levinson as well as the three overall stages within which the seasons occur.

The Novice Stage of Early Adulthood

Whilst not all are stated explicitly in each of the following phases the four major tasks of the Novice Stage are:

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  1. Forming a Dream.
  2. Forming mentor relationships.
  3. Forming an occupation.
  4. Forming love relationships in marriage and family.

Early Adult Transition                 There are two major tasks to overcome: to leave the  (age 17-22)                                pre-adult world, often associated with separation                                                 from parents; also the person must initiate                                                        early adulthood. A period where ambitions begin to                                         be formed and more responsibility is taken for one’s                                         self e.g. becoming financially sufficient. The         `                                beginnings of The Dream are likely to emerge.

Entering the Adult World                A relatively stable period with two major tasks     (age 22-28)                                to overcome. These are to take on ...

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