For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Work experience and psychological change throughout the life course"

by Mortimer, Jeylan T (1988)


Jeylan Mortimer's chapter on the links between work experience and psychological change, summarizing her own extensive studies, exemplifîes an established body of research on how people's background and early experience, and contextual characteristics of the environment, affect life-course outcomes. Glen Elder and Elizabeth Clipp, building on earlier studies of primary group bonding under conditions of wartime combat, investigate the persistence of ties to military comrades across the postwar years. The lifecourse perspective is also central to Peter Messeri's essay on scientists' willingness to adopt innovative ideas. In addition, Messeri introduces a new contextual variable—the degree to which an innovation has already been accepted—a mediating factor in the relationship between professional age and adoption of a new theory. The life-course perspective and event history analysis are joined in Rachel Rosenfeld and Kenneth Spenner's discussion of women's evolving sense of "work identity" as linked to early employment experiences and changing family responsibilities

Key Passage

There are reasons to expect that persons in different phases of the life course wUl react differently to their work experiences, given their different orientations to work, prior experiences, and phases of psychological development, It is sometimes aUeged that employment in adolescence has relatively little developmental impact because of its marginal and transitory character, If after-school jobs are seen as merely a way to earn extra spending money, and as having little relevance for subsequent work lives, the influence of work experience on the adolescent could be minimal, Another line of reasoning supports the proposition that even part-time employment is a highly influential experience for young people. Some vocational psychologists suggest that individuals are most responsive to work experiences immediately after acquiring new occupational roles (Van Maanen and Schein, 1979; HaU, 1971; Nicholson, 1984). It is plausible to expect that people would react more strongly to environmental conditions when they are new to them, at which time major adaptations must be made. Younger workers probably have to accommodate unfamUiar work experiences more frequently than older ones, given that they may move from job to job while in school, and immediately thereafter, seeking a better fit between their own needs and values and existing job conditions. According to this line of reasoning, as these initial and varied encounters with the workplace are made, adolescents experience pressures to change as they accommodate new work roles, Furthermore, if adolescence is, as is so often suggested, a critical period for the formation of personality (Erikson, 1959,1968), one might expect that work experiences at this time of life would have lasting psychological consequences.   (p.270)


Work Experience, Personality, Mental Development, Personality Traits, Work Identity, Psychological Change


Psychological Centrality of Work

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