For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Occupational Experience and Psychological Functioning: An Assessment of Reciprocal Effects"

by Kohn, Melvin L; Schooler, Carmi (1973)


[The central issue of this paper is whether men's adult occupational experiences affect or only reflect their psychological functioning. Our analysis isolates a small set of occupational conditions, twelve in all, which defines the structural imperatives of the job. These occupational conditions are found to be substantially related to men's psychological functioning, off as well as on the job. We argue that the relationships between occupational conditions and psychological functioning result from a continuing interplay between job and man, in which the effects of job on man are far from trivial. This argument is borne out by an assessment of the reciprocal effects of the substantive complexity of the work (a critically important occupational condition, for which we have the requisite longitudinal data) and several facets of psychological functioning. Substantive complexity has a decidedly greater impact on psychological functioning than the reverse.]

Key Passage

Our thesis is that adult occupational experience has a real and substantial impact upon men's psychological functioning. This argument, although famil- iar to social science at least since Marx's early writings, has never to our knowledge been empirically appraised. A widely-be- lieved contrary argument is that all corre- spondence between men's occupations and personalities results from processes of selec- tive recruitment and modification of the job to meet incumbents' needs and values. This view seems to underlie, for example, the logic of personnel testing, where the object is to select job applicants whose personalities match those of successful job incum- bents. This perspective may also underlie the greater attention sociologists have given to occupational choice than to occupational effects. (p.97)


Intellectual Flexibility, Reciprocity, Personality, Identity, Self, Distress, Psychology, Work Complexity


Kohn-Schooler, Psychological Centrality of Work

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