Hard Work Value

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The belief in hard work and its rewards is a universal American value. Born of one of America’s foundational mythologies, that all men are created equal, hard work is thought to be the key to securing financial and social success. When all are equal, so the argument goes, success depends not on the circumstances of one’s birth—race, class, gender or geography—but on one’s natural talents and willingness to work hard. Within this meritocratic framework, hard work, not opportunity, is the primary determiner of achievement. Contemporary ethnographies support this claim; studies of the working-class from Silva, Hochschild, and Lamont, along with Khan’s ethnography of the upper middle-class, confirm a fundamental belief in the merit of hard …show more content…

Lamont’s respondents ranked “being hardworking” as one of the most valued positive qualities a person could have (pg. 20). The workers Lamont interviewed also placed emphasis on the non-monetary rewards of hard work; conflating hard work with responsibility and caring for others (pg. 24). It is through hard work that these workers exert some measure of control over their often-unpredictable environments (Lamont, pg. 23). Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book, Strangers in Their Own Land, echoes many of the same observations. Hochschild’s respondents spoke of working hard for their whole lives and being proud of that hard work, regardless of the outcome (pg. 155). Hochschild’s workers expressed the sentiment that work is its own reward, and that hard work is honorable (pg. 149, 155). Notably, the working-class subjects of these studies rarely emphasize the financial rewards of hard work except when relative to providing for others—yet another mark of the honor hard work confers. Like their working-class counterparts, members of the upper middle-class share a commitment to hard work that deemphasize economic rewards and focuses on character and ability. Shamus Rahman Khan’s book, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School, interviewed students who, though economic success seems certain, remain acutely aware of the need to work hard. Students believe hard work won them entry to

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