Opportunity and attitudes toward job advancement in a manufacturing firm

Sharon L. Harlan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Promotion within organizations is increasingly recognized as an important mechanism for socioeconomic attainment during the course of individual careers. In addition to the material benefits that promotions convey, they also have symbolic meaning in American society as the principal way that individuals participate in the ideology of success. This paper uses data on production and clerical workers in one manufacturing plant to show that opportunity in work organizations, or the lack of it, explains three categories of promotion attitudes: high expectations and aspirations, low expectations and aspirations, and low expectations and high aspirations. Opportunity is defined as position in the organizational hierarchy and as workers’ perceptions of the degree to which the firm’s administrative system awards promotions through fair and open competition. The analysis shows that the effects of opportunity variables on promotion attitudes are significant even when age, education, and gender are controlled. This study goes beyond other studies of organizational opportunity structures by showing that both positional and normative opportunity have independent effects on promotion attitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)766-788
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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