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

Consider the microreality of work-personality interactions. Much of our knowledge comes from survey designs in which the time frame for an explanation covers months, years, or a decade or more. Telescope down to the smaller intervals of time and space in which a structural feature of a job actually makes a change in a worker's personality. If learning-generalization operates as hypothesized, what does that mean? Is the learning part of the process as straighforward as implied in the textbook images of operant conditioning, reinforcement psychology, and social learn- ing theory? Our survey designs typically assume and rarely observe, specify, or test the social psychological and psychological concomitants of learning generalization. What are the associated perceptual, affective, cognitive, and behavioral concomitants of learning generalization'? What are the supporting and disconfirming attribution patterns and mediations? Or is the learning process in this case below the level of cognitive operations and the attribution- al web of inferences about self and situation that people use to make sense of their world? These questions apply not only to how the job affects the person but also to how a domain of personality selects a worker into an occupational role or serves as catalyst for human agency, and leads to attempts to modify a job or work situation. At present, we have identified the occurrence of the larger effect but we do not have a very good idea of what is happening, when it happens, and how it might combine and be reflected in a particular path coefficient over the course of a decade or more. Survey designs are likely to be less informative on this research front; experimental and observational designs may be more informative. Further, the optimal time frames for design and data collection should be much collapsed but with frequent observations within the shorter time interval. Finally, research at this level will require more journeys into other literatures and traditions, for example, into experimental social psychology or an- thropological studies of work groups and networks. (p.89)


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


Kohn-Schooler, Psychological Centrality of Work

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