Work Values and Control: A Longitudinal Analysis of the Structural, Cultural and Psychological Predictors of Work Values in the High School Class of 1972 Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Ashlock, Jennifer
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology
  • Work values, the importance placed on various job characteristics, are key to understanding the quality of work experiences. Resources, opportunities and roles shape values starting in childhood, influencing the choices that people make about schooling, marriage, and preparation for the labor market. Experiences in the labor market also shape work values but the process by which this takes place has been the subject of debate. Evidence from multiple cohort studies suggests that income and other job rewards may reinforce work values such that declines in pay eventually come to decrease the importance that people place on income. According to national-level cross-sectional studies, the importance of income and other extrinsic rewards has increased over the past thirty years, however, at the same time that the value of wages has declined. An improved approach to understanding work values may come from an examination of the major themes in classical social theory that explain general values. Structuralists conceptualize values as investments that are limited by opportunities. In this sense, values are assessments of risk. In contrast, the cultural perspective emphasizes the ways that experience is interpreted by beliefs. Values, therefore, can reflect strain between social institutions and the ways that individuals manage their role sets. In addition, psychological orientations impact values in terms of the kinds of experiences that people seek out to validate perceptions of personal agency. From this context, it is possible to identify two main mechanisms that shape work values. People are continually selected into social contexts and socialized by their experiences. First, non-work resources and roles influence work values via socio-economic status (SES), gender role socialization, educational attainment, psychological agency ("locus of control" or LOC) and work experiences. Then, as people become employed, they come to value specific job characteristics according to interpretations of their work experiences. This project considers the hypothesis that people who have less control over their job rewards as a result of the disadvantages of structural position, role constraints and "external" LOC come to place more emphasis on the extrinsic aspects of work than other, more advantaged groups because low pay is problematic. Alternatively, people may simply come to value the kinds of jobs they have experienced. This alternative hypothesis suggests that job rewards reinforce work values. To test the control framework, work values are examined in the last three waves of a nationally representative cohort of young people, the National Longitudinal Survey of the High School Class of 1972. The first time point used in this study, administered when respondents are 22, is used to establish the effects of socialization in social contexts and therefore the ways that work values reflect respondents' characteristics and capabilities prior to labor market entry. As predicted, respondents from lower socio-economic status backgrounds and external LOC (low agency) are more likely to value extrinsic aspects of jobs than more advantaged respondents from higher socio-economic status backgrounds and internal LOC (high agency). Respondents who are White and those with a college degree are more likely to value intrinsic job rewards. In this initial analysis female respondents value income and job autonomy less than males, suggesting that their work preferences are shaped by gender socialization and conflict between work and home life. In the second empirical chapter, two job characteristics, weekly income and job autonomy, are incorporated into the analyses to test the idea that less control over job rewards is problematic. All else held equal, the results indicate that income and job autonomy reinforce their respective work values. Groups in the analysis that tended to earn low pay, however, tended to value it more than other, more advantaged groups. Female respondents earned considerably less than male respondents and have less job autonomy, but they value extrinsic rewards slightly more than males, suggesting that their work experiences became problematic as they accumulated labor market experience. Black respondents and those with low educational attainment also earn less income than advantaged groups and place more emphasis on extrinsic rewards. There is also some evidence that job autonomy reinforces intrinsic work values. Men with internal LOC have access to jobs with more autonomy and also come to place more emphasis on this job characteristic than external LOC men. Married women do not place more emphasis on income than single women even though they earn less, suggesting that financial aspects of jobs are not problematic due to their family roles. The results provide mixed support for the hypothesis that work values are impacted by control over the attainment of job rewards. The role conflict that women experience appears to disadvantage them in the labor force and the results suggest that pay becomes increasingly problematic as they participate in the labor force. Advantage appears to accumulate over time for some men as they are able to find their valued job characteristics in the labor market. Men's ability to access jobs with the freedom to make decisions at work may explain why their internal LOC predicts greater interest in job autonomy over time. Future research that examines work values and control over job rewards would benefit from additional panel studies that can account for the mediating effect of LOC. More detailed measures of work values and job rewards would improve evaluations of the problematic rewards hypothesis and reinforcement hypothesis. Rankings of the importance of work that is meaningful, secure, and an opportunity for enjoyable social interaction would be useful in panel studies. Policy aimed at improving the match between people and jobs should consider the effects of family background, educational attainment and long term disadvantage on work values, job rewards and LOC.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Aldrich, Howard
  • Perrin, Andrew J.
  • Marshall, Victor W.
  • Zimmer, Catherine
  • Kalleberg, Arne
  • Kleinman, Sherryl
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2014
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
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