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

In short, the Kohn-Schooler approach features multiple dimensions of work and personality cast in a larger theoretical framework that links social stratification position to structural imperatives of jobs, which in turn are linked to components of personality. The analytic strategy uses structural equation models, estimated with two-stage least squares on cross-sectional data in several of the earlier papers and with maximum likelihood methods on longitudinal data in more recent papers. The models permit estimates under a set of assumptions (Bielby & Hauser 1977) of lagged and contemporaneous reciprocal effects between conditions of work and personality dimensions-in this case, with nonexperimental, panel survey data. The models allow for control of spurious association and, in the case of multiple indicators, for latent constructs; they also allow for the separation of estimates of reliability, validity, stability (Wheaton et al 1977). Finally, this type of model simulta- neously considers dimensions of work and personality in the context of a system of relationships versus serial or sequential treatment of bivariate or multivariate relationships. Each of these features represents advances in the state-of-the-art of research on social structure and personality; many of these advances are still making their way into various research quarters. Short of an experimental design, this is a relatively strong strategy for making causalĀ  inferences. The general specification of the models draws upon multiple indicator measurement models for personality dimensions and components of occupational self-direction, but not for other work conditions or background variables. The models contain lagged versions of (second-order factor) per- sonality dimensions and components of occupational self-direction, based on measures taken in 1964 and 1974. Thus, the specification allows for lagged effects (10 years) of job conditions on personality dimensions and vice versa, along with contemporaneous reciprocal estimates of relationships between components of personality and job conditions. A large set of exogenous background control variables includes: age, race, education, religious and national background, parent's education and occupation levels, region, urbanicity, and number of children in family of origin. Identification is achieved in more complicated models through instrumental variables, estima- tion in steps of the measurement model, then fixing these estimates in the larger structural equations, and then setting select parameters to zero based on prior (simpler model) estimates of zero effect. (p.73)


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


Kohn-Schooler, Psychological Centrality of Work

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