For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"How our work influences who we are: Testing a theory of vocational and personality development over fifty years"

by Woods, Stephen A; Edmonds, Grant W; Hampson, Sarah E; Lievens, Filip (2020)


This study examines the developmental influences of occupational environments on personality traits from childhood to adulthood. We test aspects of a theory of vocational and personality development, proposing that traits develop in response to work experience following corresponsive and noncorresponsive mechanisms. We describe these pathways in the context of situations of vocational gravitation and inhabitation. In a sample from the Hawaii personality and health cohort (N = 596), we examined associations of childhood and adulthood personality traits, with occupational environments profiled on the RIASEC model. Mediations tests confirmed that work influenced personality development from childhood to adulthood for Openness/Intellect. We observed multiple reactivity effects of occupation environments on adulthood traits that were not associated with corresponding selection effects.

Key Passage

In this paper, we argue that a more encompassing and comprehensive model is needed to explain how vocational experiences exert influence on traits through people’s careers. To this end, we develop a broader theoretical model concerning the pathways and mechanisms by which vocation-related experiences influence personality development and change. Our key premise is that a more comprehensive model of personality development and change should deal with normative personality development, and change prompted by unique experiences of environments that could be a fit but also misfit with a person’s traits, where traits may or may not have selected people into those environments. This broader perspective of vocational and personality development builds on and extends previous theories of vocational gravitation and attraction (e.g. Holland, 1997; Woods & Hampson, 2010; Schneider, 1984), personality trait activation and development (e.g. Tett & Burnett, 2003; Woods et al., 2013; Roberts, Caspi, & Moffitt, 2003), and work adjustment (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984). To test the proposed pathways and mechanisms of this model we rely on the Hawaii Personality and Health Cohort. This unique dataset permits us to explore trait change over a longer period than in any previous study, with early childhood personality traits measured at ages 6–12, and adulthood personality traits measured around 50 years later. (p.2)


Personality Development, Personality Trait Change, Vocational Development, Corresponsive Mechanism, Person-Environment Fit, Trait Activation


Psychological Centrality of Work

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