The Occupational Attitude

Emory S. Bogardus
University of Southern California

A PERSON'S occupational activities over a period of time influence his social attitudes and give him an occupational attitude of life. After observing men at work in many parts of the world, Whiting Williams concludes: "We tend to live our way into our thinking, more than we think our way into our living."[1] In comparing the reactions of persons of different occupations to the same social need, Gault has indicated the existence of an occupational attitude

The professional disposition or complex of the physician renders him suggestible in the face of situations that leave the carpenter untouched. He responds with enthusiasm to a movement for paving the streets because it "suggests" to him what never occurred to the proposers--the improvement of sanitary conditions.[2]

An occupation involves unfinished activities or interests and these act as thought whirlpools. After studying educational processes for many years, Finney puts the idea as follows: "Our interests predetermine our thinking; seldom does our thinking select our interests."[3] In pointing out the rigorous influence of occupation upon persons, a community organization expert makes evident the existence of ah occupational attitude: "So all men are prisoners to

( 172) their special work and point of view."[4] Dewey offers similar testimony in his well known emphasis on . "occupational psychoses."

An occupation is a standardized, repeated and persistent type of activity. It is an habitual way of acting, or a complex set of ways of doing according to which persons make a living, and by which many find their largest and richest opportunities for social usefulness and personal development.

Any type of doing concentrates the attention upon certain objects and processes or values. The seeking of these values produces attitudes, or tendencies to act. Each occupation has its characteristic attitudes, which, taken in the large, may be referred to here as the occupational attitude.

Each occupation has its own peculiar problems, its own demands upon the attention of its .representatives, and its peculiar influence upon the latter's mental development and social attitudes. Doing a thing or a set of things according to certain routines every day, in season and out, tends to create mental patterns. The occupation of driving ox teams will produce a slow-moving mental pattern, while driving a taxicab in a large city will lead to quickmoving mental psychoses. Acting as motorman with the sign before one of "Don't speak to the motorman" gives one a day's work in a mental vacuum, while teaching classes of wide-awake, inquiring young people sharpens one's wits and gives an intellectually alert mental complex. Correcting children's mistakes in arithmetic, spelling, and reading for several hours daily over a period of years produces a' mistake-hunting mental pattern.

Objects won in occupational activities become values, social values, which are paralleled by correlative attitudes ; and hence, each occupation is characterized by social atti-

( 173) -tudes and values peculiar to itself. Business activity yields money profits, which becomes a chief value for business men, with its correlative monetary attitudes of life that characterize business men and often unconsciously influence their extra-business thinking. Missionary activity bears fruit in "converts" who become "values," and a convert-hunting attitude of life develops. In politics, "votes" are perhaps the chief "values" that are sought; they create a vote-hunting attitude. .

It would seem that two persons might start. with about the same inherited predispositions, the same mental equipment, and by choosing different occupations, for example, one, a money-making occupation, and the other, a service occupation, such as missionary work, and at. the end of twenty years have become "successful," but have drifted so far apart in occupational and social attitudes as to have almost nothing in common.

It appears that an ordinary person's mental equipment is such as to fit him to succeed in any one of a number of occupations. "Rarely does it happen that talent is suited to one occupation only." Occupational activity seems, however, to take the inherited stock of impulses and aptitudes, and to be instrumental in organizing them into attitudes and complexes, so that a given person's thinking at the age of fifty is much different than it would have been had he followed some other occupation at which he might have succeeded equally well.


A person who has enjoyed his work in a given occupation and has succeeded in it is apt to feel that "his" occupation or profession is the most important of all. All of life becomes organized habitually around one's occupational activities. An anonymous writer, for example, illustrates the

( 174) point when he says : "The miller thinks that the wheat grows only in order to keep his mill going." A social psychological interpretation of the, situation is given by J. M. Williams when he refers to a business man as follows :

"In the course of his work his business became precious to him because it was that for which he had given his life, just as children are precious to the mother as that for which she has given her life, and the book to the author as that for which he has given his life. Life is precious and whatever one gives it for becomes precious."[5]

The egocentrism of occupation affects the wage earner and the capitalist alike. The effects of specialization, of working in relatively narrow grooves, in both cases is clearly evident. Hobhouse puts the situation this way:

The poor man maintains "my" right to work and wages as though the community whose system of exchanges makes work profitable and gives money wages their value had nothing to say to the claim. The inheritor of wealth talks of "my" property, and resents interference with. it by society, forgetting that without the organized force of the community and the rule of law, he could neither inherit nor be secure from moment to moment in his possessions.[6]

In this connection the attitudes of teachers and even of college professors are often notorious. Each one is apt to . believe sooner or later that the subjects which he teaches are more important than other subjects. If any courses of study are to be "required" each professor feels that his own should be recognized. A frank and conscientious student who in good faith tells a teacher of a given subject that he "didn't get anything out of that course" had better not enroll with that teacher again soon.

The successful farmer feels the superiority of his occu-

( 175) -pation over other lines of activity, and does not conceal his attitude. If he be of the traditional type lie boasts of his "independence," and how he can do as lie pleases on his own land. He openly expresses pity for the "poor fish" who coop themselves up in large cities, growing paler and paler; who wear white collars and develop dainty, silken hands.

The hereditary leisure classes even proclaim this superiority of a no-occupational existence. They make an occupation out of doing nothing. They glorify afternoon teas and bridge parties into a dignified profession, scorning to soil their hands with manual labor. As their mental capacities atrophy they become incapable of perceiving that their do-nothing existence, instead of being the highest occupation of all, may be the least, roost vapid, silliest, most unpatriotic, and most anti-social of all.

Occupational attitudes and values become conventional and more or less fixed. Occupational literature furthers the traditions. Occupational journals cater to the occupational minds of their respective constituents. Each boasts the occupational values it represents, until its readers become saturated with occupational pride, which in time may become occupational blindness, This tendency is furthered by the fact that a person usually takes one or several occupational journals, and rarely reads the journals representing other occupations.

Occupational attitudes arid values become fixed in group heritages. Children are trained in these traditional lines of thinking from earliest. infancy. Table talk and family conversation have their occupational stimuli. Each occupation tends to develop its own cultural heritages, slogans, beliefs, or even superstitions. These are sooner or later. caught up by the individual and with modifications become a part of his thought life, creating for him an occupational attitude.

( 176)

Each occupation has its own type of social inter-stimulation. People who are working at the sane tasks come together to exchange ideas. They have much in common and "shop talk" is a daily phenomenon. Occupational "shop talk" is a strong evidence of occupational influence on thinking, and of the large place which occupational thinking holds in the lives of the workers in any field of activity. By daily meeting people of the same type as oneself, who are doing about the sane thing in a similar way, one's tendency to develop an occupational complex is magnified.

Each occupation has its own organizations and institutions through which occupational attitudes and values become crystallized. These organizations may become highly developed and exert powerful control over their members. Gigantic business corporations, the well-established labor organizations, professional associations such as the American Bar Association, or the American Medical Association-all set up occupational values, and rule in a more or less rigid way the occupational or professional attitudes of the respective membership.

Occupational attitudes create class cleavages and other social divisions. Occupational values often come to be rated so high that occupational groups seek political and social power. Business organizations seek to control legislation; organized labor enters politics; and even professional groups lobby, sometimes in questionable ways, for occupationally desirable laws. Occupational groups usually begin to seek legislative aid for purely protective purposes. The next step is to attempt to control the whole government.

Draper overemphasizes the importance of the occupational attitude when he says: "Work makes the worker."[7] The evidence does not permit the adoption of an occupational determinism theory, for work is only one factor in a

( 177) person's life and in the development of his social attitudes. It clearly is not wholly dominant. It may become a subordinate factor if a person attempts to see himself in his occupational attitudes as persons in other occupations see him, if he will analyze the biases which his occupation generates, and if he will establish habits of personal control over these occupational biases.


  1. Horny Hands and Hampered Elbows (Scribners, 1922), p. lx.
  2. Social Psychology (Holt, 1923), p. 140.
  3. Causes and Cures for Social Unrest (Macmillan, 1922), pp. 7-8.
  4. H. E. Jackson, Robinson Crusoe, Social Engineer (Dutton, 1922), p. 197.
  5. The Foundations of Social Science (Knopf, 1920), pp. 57-58.
  6. Elements of Social Justice (Holt, 1922), p. 26.
  7. American Education (Houghton Mifflin, 1909), p. 227

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