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Adolescent socialization and the development of adult work orientations

Adolescent Experiences and Adult Work Outcomes: Connections and Causes

ISBN: 978-1-78350-571-5, eISBN: 978-1-78350-572-2

ISSN: 0277-2833

Publication date: 12 April 2014



A work orientation represents a person’s beliefs about the meaning of work – the function work plays in the person’s life and the constellation of values and assumptions the person holds about the work domain. Research has suggested that adults tend to favor one of three primary work orientations: job, career, or calling. Empirical studies have shown that adults with different primary work orientations tend to experience different work and career outcomes; however, scholars have not analyzed how or why an individual first develops a work orientation. In this study, we take a first step toward investigating the origins of adults’ work orientations.


We propose hypotheses drawing on extant literature on the development of work values and occupational inheritance. We test hypotheses using a retrospective research design and survey methodology, with a sample of working adults.


Work orientations are developed through socialization processes with parents during adolescence. There are different patterns of development across the three work orientation categories: stronger calling orientations are developed when both parents possess strong calling orientations; stronger career orientations develop in accordance with fathers’ career orientations; and job orientations are related more to the nature of the adolescent’s relationship with parents than with parents’ own work orientations.


This research provides the first empirical study of the origin and development of work orientations.

Research limitations/implications

This research offers insight into ways generations are connected through the perceived meaning of their work, even as the nature of work changes. We encourage future scholars to use this as a starting point for research on the development of work orientations, and to continue exploring these questions using additional methods, particularly longitudinal study designs.




The authors would like to thank the editors of this volume for their constructive comments, as well as colleagues at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the May Meaning Meeting community for feedback on earlier drafts of this work, particularly: Susan Ashford, Shoshana Dobrow, Jane Dutton, Adam Grant, Brent Rosso, Gretchen Spreitzer, Flannery Stevens, Jennifer Tosti-Kharas, and Amy Wrzesniewski.


Dekas, K.H. and Baker, W.E. (2014), "Adolescent socialization and the development of adult work orientations", Adolescent Experiences and Adult Work Outcomes: Connections and Causes (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 25), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 51-84.



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