IZA World of Labor
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What role does happiness play in labor market policy?

Policymakers have recognized that if they can determine the root cause of people’s happiness then they can better tailor their policy aims to the real requirements of society. Globally, happiness has become a hot topic, with everyone from governments to the UN placing increased weight on encouraging well-being at both national and international level.

  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • What makes a good job? Job quality and job satisfaction

    Job satisfaction is important to well-being, but intervention may be needed only if markets are impeded from improving job quality

    Andrew E. Clark, December 2015
    Many measures of job satisfaction have been trending downward. Because jobs are a key part of most people’s lives, knowing what makes a good job (job quality) is vital to knowing how well society is doing. Integral to worker well-being, job quality also affects the labor market through related decisions on whether to work, whether to quit, and how much effort to put into a job. Empirical work on what constitutes a good job finds that workers value more than wages; they also value job security and interest in their work. Policy to affect job quality requires information on the cost of the different aspects of job quality and how much workers value them.
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  • Migrant well-being after leaving transition economies

    Evidence is mixed on whether quality of life improves for migrants from post-socialist economies

    Milena Nikolova, October 2015
    Most comparative research suggests that immigrants from post-socialist countries earn less than natives, work in jobs for which they are overqualified, and may experience unhappiness compared with natives, other immigrants, and non-migrants. In contrast, one study presents causal evidence which shows that moving from transition economies to live in the West increases the incomes, life satisfaction, and freedom perceptions of those who move. Credibly assessing whether leaving transition economies improves movers’ quality of life remains a challenging empirical question.
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  • Happiness as a guide to labor market policy

    Happiness is key to a productive economy, and a job is key to individual happiness

    Jo Ritzen, May 2015
    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 unemployment benefits can contribute to happiness—though when such policies prolong 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.
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  • Happiness and the emigration decision

    Happy people are an asset to society, and happiness may be a determinant of emigration

    Artjoms Ivlevs, October 2014
    Happy people are healthier and more creative, productive, and sociable. Because of these positive effects of happiness, it is in the interest of countries to attract and retain happy people. With respect to the decision to migrate, the central question becomes whether people who are happier and more satisfied with their lives are more or less likely to migrate. The evidence so far is mixed. Correlational studies find that prospective migrants are less happy than people who are not intending to migrate, while one study controlling for reverse causality suggests that the desire to migrate increases with life satisfaction.
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