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

Kohn & Schooler interpret the effects of work conditions on personality in terms of the logic of "learning generalization," in which people learn from their jobs in direct fashion and generalize the lessons to off-job realities. In other words, rather than using more complicated psychological mechanisms of compensation, displacement, or processing in cognitive schema, the structural imperatives of jobs affect worker's values, orientations to self and society, and cognitive functioning through a direct process of learning from the job and selected "generalization" of what has been learned, consistent with psychological theories of reinforcement and social learning (Kohn 1987: note 3). Note that (a) cognitive processing or styles (Snyder & Ickes 1985), (b) affective or attributional judgments by workers in terms of control, efficacy, or esteem (Bandura 1977, Korman 1976), or (c) worker-job "fit," need fulfillment, or satisfaction levels (French et al 1982, Oldham & Hack- man 1981, O'Brien 1986)-among other alternative explanations-are not part of the learning-generalization explanation. In short, the effect of job on person is more immediate in temporal terms and more simple than complex in terms of psychological dynamics. In contrast, the effects of personality on job are longer-term; jobs and the job structure are presumably less malleable; workers exert their personality in selecting jobs over the longer term or in slowly molding their jobs. (p.75)


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


Kohn-Schooler, Psychological Centrality of Work

Links to Reference



How to contribute.