Longitudinal analysis of ability-job complexity fit and job change

Steffanie L. Wilk, Paul R. Sackett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Scopus citations


The study examines job mobility as a function of congruence between individuals' abilities and their job's complexity. The gravitational hypothesis (McCormick, DeNisi, & Staw, 1979; McCormick, Jeanneret, & Mecham, 1972), a keystone of this objective, posits that individuals will sort into jobs that are commensurate with their ability level. This study used various analytical techniques to examine the relationship between ability, person-job fit, and occupational mobility. First, the gravitational hypothesis was tested. Second, the direction of mismatch between ability and job complexity was hypothesized to predict direction of change in job complexity over time. Two national, longitudinal databases, the National Longitudinal Study of the Class of 1972 (NLS-72) and the National Longitudinal Survey of Labor Market Experience-Youth Cohort (NLSY), were used to test these relationships. Results were supportive in both the NLS-72 and the NLSY. Additional analyses examined the difference between measures of objective job complexity and subjective job complexity (Gerhart, 1988) for the gravitational process and the difference in employer- and employee-initiated job changes. These results have implications for employers, vocational counselors and job applicants. Suggestions for improving the ability-job complexity match are provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)937-967
Number of pages31
JournalPersonnel Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996


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