For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Plaster or plasticity: are adult work experiences associated with personality change in women?"

by Roberts, B W (1997)


The present study tested whether work experiences were associated with personality change across two periods of adulthood (age 21 to 27 and 27 to 43) in a longitudinal sample of women (N = 81). Two competing theoretical perspectives were tested: the plaster theory, which claims that personality does not change after age 30, and the plasticity theory, which claims that personality can change at any time in adulthood. Evidence was found for both correlational consistency of personality in adulthood and for the socialization effect of work on personality change. Work experiences were not associated with personality change in young adulthood but were associated with changes between young adulthood and midlife. In the period from age 27 to age 43 women who worked more became more agentic, and women who were more successful in their work became both more agentic and more normadhering. This pattern of associations between personality change and work experience provided support for the plasticity model of personality change.

Key Passage

Do experiences in work change our personality as we move from the pressures of starting a career iti young adulthood to the responsibilities of maintaining a career in midhfe? Two positions on personality change are relevant to this question. The plaster hypothesis holds that personality does not change after young adulthood (approximately age 30; e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1988). The obvious conclusion one would draw from this position is that occupational experiences that occur after young adulthood cannot influence that which refuses to change. The second position is more optimistic about the malleability of personality dispositions. Many adult developmental researchers and some personality psychologists believe that personality can change any time in adulthood (Baltes, 1987; Helson & Stewart, 1994; Kogan, 1989). This second position, the plasticity hypothesis, assumes that individuals have the potential for different forms of behavior at any period in adulthood and, in tum, the potential for personality change. If the plasticity position is correct, then occupational experiences may influence personality change in both young adulthood and midlife. (p.206)


Personality, Personality Theory, Personality Change, Metal Development, Plasticity, Mental Plasticity, Women


Women and Work, Psychological Centrality of Work

Links to Reference



How to contribute.