Man, Work, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Occupations

By Sigmund Nosow; William H. Form | Go to book overview

3. THE FUNCTION AND MEANING OF WORK AND THE JOB ·

Nancy C. Morse and R. S. Weiss

With the increasing complexity and industrialization of society, work for many people has become more and more simply a means toward the end of earning a living. However, we are in danger of overgeneralizing this trend and pushing it to its logical conclusion, expecting that working serves only a means function. The present study of the meaning of work among a national sample of employed men indicates that for most men having a job serves other functions than the one of earning a living. In fact, even if they had enough money to support themselves, they would still want to work. Working gives them a feeling of being tied into the larger society, of having something to do, of having a purpose in life. These other functions which working serves are evidently not seen as available in nonwork activities.

This finding that work has other meanings is consistent with observations of the effect of retirement and the effect of unemployment on men. If men work only for money, there is no way of explaining the degree of dislocation and deprivation which retirement, even on an adequate salary, appears to bring to the formerly employed. The particularly interesting results of this national sample study on the meaning of working are: (1) that working is more than a means to an end for the vast majority of employed men; (2) that a man does not have to be at the age of retirement or be immediately threatened by unemployment to be able to imagine what not working would mean to him; and (3) that working serves other functions than an economic one for men in both middle-class and working-class occupations, but that the nonmonetary functions served by working are somewhat different in these two broad classifications of occupations.

The method used to explore the function and meaning of work for employed men was a short "fixed question-free answer" interview of a random sample of employed men in the United States. We shall report some of the results of the analysis of these interviews with the 401 men studied in the sample.


General Results

The conclusion that working is more than a means for economic support comes primarily from a question in the interview which was designed to remove hypothetically the economic function of working. The question asked the respondents was:

"If by some chance you inherited enough money to live comfortably

-29-

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