For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Job Conditions and Personality: A Longitudinal Assessment of Their Reciprocal Effects"

by Kohn, Melvin L; Schooler, Carmi (1982)


In earlier work, we assessed a longitudinal causal model of the reciprocal effects of the substative complexity of work and intellectual flexibility. In this paper, we greatly expand the causal model to consider sumultaneously several structural imperatives of the job and three major dimensions of personality-ideational flexibility, a self directed orientation to self and society, and a sense of distress. The analysis demonstrates that the structural imperatives of the job affect personality. Self-directed work leads to ideational flexibility and to a self-directed orientation to self and society; oppressive working conditions lead to distress. These findings strongly support a learning generalization model. Personality, in turn, has important consequences for an individual's place in the job structure and in the system of social stratification. In particular, both ideational flexibility and a self-directed orientation lead, over time, to more responsible jobs that allow greater latitude for occupational self-direction.

Key Passage

These findings provide strong empirical support for the interpretation that class-associated conditions of work actually do affect personality. The longitudinal analysis also provides evidence of other job-to-personality effects, the most important being that oppressive work- ing conditions produce a sense of distress. Implicit in all these findings is the consistent implication that the principal process by which a job affects personality is one of straightforward generalization from the lessons of the job to life off the job, instead of such less direct processes as compensation and reaction formation. (p.1282)


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


Kohn-Schooler, Psychological Centrality of Work

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