Erin Cech, UM Sociology

The Passion Principle: Self-Expressive Career Decision-Making and the Reproduction of Occupational Inequalities
Erin Cech


Winter 2018
Lecture Time: 
Friday, January 19, 2018 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 
R0220 Ross School of Business
Introduced By: 
Sheila Brassel


“Follow your passion” is a ubiquitous cultural mantra for career decision-making in the United States, particularly among the college educated. Self-expressive career decisions may seem positive and beneficial to individuals, but is there a dark side to this emphasis on passion-seeking? In this talk, I describe what I call the “passion principle”— a cultural schema that elevates self-expression as the central guiding principle in career decisions—and draw on several recent empirical studies to explain how this cultural schema might serve as a mechanism of inequality reproduction in the aggregate. First, using qualitative interviews with 100 college students, I argue that the passion principle undermines the cultural legitimacy of using college as a tool for economic mobility and frames patterns of occupational segregation as the aggregate outcome of passion-based choice. Second, using 5-year longitudinal survey data of college graduates, I investigate the empirical connection between self-expressive career choices and the reproduction of occupational sex segregation. Third, to explore the demand side of the passion principle, I draw on an experimental survey study of hiring managers to show that passion is a preferred trait of applicants because passionate applicants are presumed to work harder, but passionate applicants are not more highly compensated. I end by discussing the implications of this research for considerations of self-expression and inequality more broadly and note the policy conundrum inherent in these mechanisms.

Recording & Additional Notes

Reading List

Erin A. Cech, "The Self-Expressive Edge of Occupational Sex Segregation," American Journal of Sociology 119, no. 3 (November 2013): 747-789. doi:10.1086/673969