IZA World of Labor
key topic

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.

  • 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.
  • Gross domestic product: Are other measures needed?

    GDP summarizes only one aspect of a country’s condition; other measures in addition to GDP would be valuable

    Gross domestic product (GDP) is the key indicator of the health of an economy and can be easily compared across countries. But it has limitations. GDP tells what is going on today, but does not inform about sustainability of growth. It does not measure happiness, so residents can be dissatisfied even when GDP is rising. GDP does not consider environmental factors or reflect what individuals do outside paid employment. It might increase in times of military conflicts and after natural disasters or terrorist acts, as the loss of property is not counted. Hence, complementary measures may help to show a more comprehensive picture of an economy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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