For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Social Stratification, Work, and Personality"

by Spenner, Kenneth I (1988)


The last decade saw considerable advances in the state of research on social stratification, work, and personality. The program carried out by Kohn, Schooler, and colleagues was central to refocusing research on social structure and personality, and generating new knowledge about social stratification, work, and personality. The review is organized around the Kohn-Schooler program and considers other research and issues in relation to this centerpiece. It includes central features and findings of the Kohn-Schooler models, replication support and extensions, scope conditions and limitations, alternate hypotheses and relationships to other explanatory models, and other forms of unattended heterogeneity. The review concludes with a summary of the ways in which the field can and should move beyond this central program; the summary is organized in terms of a research agenda at multiple levels of time and space in social structure.

Key Passage

 The Kohn-Schooler approach has become the dominant approach to the study of work, personality, and social stratification, and one major approach to the study of social structure and personality, comprising a core of knowl- edge and method. A growing body of research constitutes replication or extension of, or reaction against, the Kohn-Schooler approach. The Kohn- Schooler approach offers a framework for reviewing other research de- velopments, for example, social class and age variations in self-esteem (Rosenberg & Pearlin 1978), or work and stress (LaRocco et al 1980, Pearlin et al 1981). In its strengths and weaknesses, the Kohn-Schooler model helps decipher the import of new developments in other areas, for example, in research on organizational control and productivity (Ouchi & Johnson 1978), or successful adjustments to aging (Featherman 1987, Rowe & Kahn 1987). Finally, the Kohn-Schooler program has been successful: in addressing the question of why social class affects child rearing; in offering a cumulative research tradition that incorporates methodological and other advances; in redirecting much of the research in social structure and personality; and in shedding new light on old questions. For example, the long-standing interest of sociologists in the contrasting images of workers as pawns (e.g. as objects of larger social forces such as alienating work conditions) and workers as active agents (e.g. as selectors, modifiers, and organizers; as self-reflexive) stands informed by recent estimates of contemporaneous and lagged recipro- cal influences between job and personality. (p.71)


Kohn, Schooler, Personality, Stratification, Social Structure, Social Psychology, Personality Theory


Kohn-Schooler, Psychological Centrality of Work

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