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

The age at which personality change covaries with work experience is intrinsic to testing the plaster and plasticity models as previously set forth. According to the plaster hypothesis (personality sets at age 30), we would expect work experiences to be as.sociated with individual differences in personality change disproportionately in young adulthood (from age 21 to 27) and not at all from young adulthood to early midlife (age 27 to 43). In contrast, the plasticity position proposes that personality change can happen at any age in adulthood. Thus, according to the plasticity model we might find personality change to be associated with occupational experience over either period or both periods, depending on tbe life context. Structural equation modeling with latent variables will be used to test the competing perspectives of the plaster and plasticity models. A primary advantage of structural equation modeling with latent variables is that it permits an explicit test of hierarchically linked hypotheses (Bentler, 1980). In the present research, the plaster and plasticity hypotheses are hierarchically related, in that the plaster model is a more restrictive version of the plasticity model. Specifically, the plasticity model encompasses a relation between work experiences and personality change from either age 21 to 27 or 27 to 43. In contrast, the plaster model would be consistent with a relation between work experience and personality change before age 30 but not after. Thus, the plaster model would propose no relation between personality change and work experience in the midlife period. A comparison of the more restrictive plaster model to the plasticity model in the midlife period will determine which hypothesis fits the data better. (p.211)


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


Women and Work, Psychological Centrality of Work

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