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We See Work the Same Way Our Parents Did


When it comes to how we feel about work, we fall into three categories, say researchers at the University of Michigan: job, career, or calling. Furthermore, your point of view has a lot to do with how your parents felt about their jobs.


(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“Work orientations are a modern link between the meaning of work for parents and children,” says Wayne Baker, professor of management and organizations at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “Socialization during adolescence is the mechanism through which this persistent link is established.”

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The study shows that attitudes toward work persist across generations, even when children have very different kinds of jobs than their parents did. So if Mom and Dad were dedicated to their jobs, odds are you will be too — even if you’re completely unable to explain what you do, when you’re talking to your family around the dinner table at the holidays.

What do these different categories mean? Essentially, they’re defined by the rewards people get from their work. Job-oriented people, for example, look at their work as a means of getting money, and invest their passion in things outside the office. Career-oriented workers, on the other hand, get their identity from their work, while calling-oriented folks find personal fulfillment at work.

Fathers were influential on career-orientation, but mothers were not. Lauren Davidson at The Atlantic explains:

“The researchers attributed this to generational gender norms. When the study’s participants were teenagers, mostly in the 1980s, men were more commonly employed outside of the home and were more likely than women to hold ‘career’ jobs with opportunity for advancement.”

Notably, calling-orientation required input from both parents — as Davidson points out, perhaps because it takes a lot of support to resist social pressure to concentrate on money and status.

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Did your parents’ attitude toward work affect yours? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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