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

Thus we find evidence for both of the processes thought to underlie the pattern of aging stability, The fact that both work conditions and psychological orientations become increasingly stable over time is consistent with the notion that psychological change is a function of the degree of stability of environmental conditions, Second, we find that differences in job conditions (especially work autonomy) have a stronger impact upon the psychological development of younger workers than that of older workers. This pattern of findings supports the hypothesis that the psychological orientations of younger people are more responsive to whatever variation exists in their environmental contexts. Our analyses also provide support for Kohn and Schooler's contention that work autonomy is the dimension of occupational experience that most profoundly affects psychological orientations, Of the four occupational dimensions under consideration—work autonomy, income, occupational prestige, and overload—autonomy had the most consistent effect on the psychological variables, In fact, it was the only work-related variable to influence job satisfaction and work involvement significantly and positively in all three age groups, Work autonomy, however, significantly diminished stress only in the youngest and the middle-aged group of workers, The positive effects of autonomy on job satisfaction and involvement in even the oldest category of workers testifies to the continuing salience of this aspect of work for psychological well-being, This pattern would support, to some degree, the "lifelong openness" model, which suggests that psychological change occurs throughout life in response to changing environmental conditions, (p.278)


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


Psychological Centrality of Work

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