Well-being, unemployment, and economic instability

Many studies document a large negative effect of unemployment on happiness. The nonpecuniary cost of unemployment exceeds the pecuniary cost, and not conforming to the social work norm is one of the main drivers of loss of life satisfaction. If a government wishes to ensure national well-being, as well as greater productivity, it should put full employment center-stage among the goals of its economic policy.

Listen to talks on this topic by Alex Bryson and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve from January 23, 2018.

  • Happiness as a guide to labor market policy

    Happiness is key to a productive economy, and a job remains key to individual happiness, also under robotization

    Jo Ritzen, January 2019
    Measures of individual happiness, or well-being, can guide labor market policies. Individual unemployment, as well as the rate of unemployment in society, have a negative effect on happiness. In contrast, employment protection and un-employment benefits or a basic income can contribute to happiness—though when such policies prolong unintended unemployment, the net effect on national happiness is negative. Active labor market policies that create more job opportunities increase happiness, which in turn increases productivity. Measures of individual happiness should therefore guide labor market policy more explicitly, also with substantial robotization in production.
  • Relative deprivation in the labor market

    The choice of reference group crucially determines subjective deprivation and thus affects labor market behavior

    Paolo Verme, June 2017
    Why do different population groups (e.g. rural vs. urban, youth vs. elderly and men vs. women) experience the same objective labor status differently? One hypothesis is that people are more concerned with relative deprivation than objective deprivation and they value their own status relative to the status of their peers—the reference group. One way to test this hypothesis in the labor market is to measure individual differences in labor status while controlling for characteristics that define population groups. This measure is called “relative labor deprivation” and can help policymakers to better understand how labor claims are generated.
  • The economics of mental health

    With modern psychological therapy, mentally ill people can become more productive and more satisfied with life

    Richard Layard, January 2017
    In a typical country, one in five people suffers from a mental illness, the great majority from depression or crippling anxiety. Mental illness accounts for half of all illness up to age 45 in rich countries, making it the most prevalent disease among working-age people; it also accounts for close to half of disability benefits in many countries. Mentally ill people are less likely to be employed and, if employed, more likely to be out sick or working below par. If mentally ill people received treatment so that they had the same employment rate as the rest of the population, total employment would be 4% higher, adding many billions to national output.
  • Are happy workers more productive?

    Firms’ concerns about the well-being of their employees are largely supported by the evidence

    Eugenio Proto, December 2016
    Recently, large companies like Google have made substantial investments in the well-being of their workers. While evidence shows that better performing companies have happier employees, there has been much less research on whether happy employees contribute to better company performance. Finding causal relations between employee well-being and company performance is important for firms to justify spending corporate resources to provide a happier work environment for their employees. While correlational and laboratory studies do find a positive relationship, the evidence remains sparse.
  • Labor market policies, unemployment, and identity

    Policies to help the unemployed can affect feelings of identity and well-being, so measures need to be evaluated carefully

    Ronnie Schöb, June 2016
    Unemployment not only causes material hardship but can also affect an individual’s sense of identity (i.e. their perception of belonging to a specific social group) and, consequently, feelings of personal happiness and subjective well-being. Labor market policies designed to help the unemployed may not overcome their misery: wage subsidies can be stigmatizing, workfare may not provide the intended incentives, and flexicurity (a system that combines a flexible labor market with active policy measures), may increase uncertainty. Policies aimed at bringing people back to work should thus take the subjective well-being of the affected persons more into consideration.
  • Health effects of job insecurity

    Job insecurity adversely affects health, but fair workplace practices and employee participation can mitigate the effects

    Francis Green, December 2015
    Research has shown that job insecurity affects both mental and physical health, though the effects are lower when employees are easily re-employable. The detrimental effects of job insecurity can also be partly mitigated by employers allowing greater employee participation in workplace decision-making in order to ensure fair procedures. But as job insecurity is felt by many more people than just the unemployed, the negative health effects during recessions are multiplied and extend through the majority of the population. This reinforces the need for more effective, stabilising macroeconomic policies.
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