Occupation and employment's effect on identity

From Academic Kids

In sociology, a person’s identity is the way that people see themselves and the way other people see them. Identities develop as we come to see ourselves in a particular way. Paid work or the lack of it is a major element.


Income and status

In general a worker’s value is considered to be what that person earns - although there are exceptions. Plumbers can earn more than some University academics, although academics are usually considered to have higher status. Charity workers, care workers, nurses, teachers and similar employees are seen as more useful than for example, door-to-door salesmen/women, advertisers etc. Careers may have no earnings but do useful work.

Despite exceptions a person’s earnings have an enormous impact on self-worth and in most cases it is felt rightly or wrongly, earnings roughly reflect a person’s usefulness. Those with low-status work tend to find their self-esteem frequently damaged. Within a culture of capitalism, spending (well earned) money tends to improve self-esteem.

The nature of work

Full time workers spend a large part of their time working, and what happens when a person is working has a profound effect on identity. Some people may feel pressured into doing things they feel are immoral, and especially if this is repeated this may affect their self-respect and self-esteem. For example a secretary may have to lie to cover for their employer, or a therapist may not feel able to report inappropriate behaviour by colleagues. Such people sometimes reason away what they do or get into denial about it. In those cases they can continue to feel good about themselves but their moral sense may be weakened.

The working environment

Self-esteem can also be damaged if a worker has to accept regular put-downs from employers, customers, co-workers etc. For example waiters and shop assistants routinely have to listen without answering back when customers complain regarding matters over which they have no or little control. Employers and co-workers can behave similarly.

The unwaged

In the context of being within a culture of capitalism, a person's first paid job is a step towards adult independence. Those who don't have paid employment are victimized in the same way as the homeless. Society encourages unemployed people to feel useless and guilty. This is not always justified, but in some cases it can be (usually related to alcohol or smoking or other drugs).

See also

References include

The Course Texts for the Open University course, DD100.


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