Extract from LLAKES newsletter n4.

What do we mean by “job quality”, and how can we design indices to measure it? These are the central questions in another LLAKES European research project being led by Francis Green.

The project follows a call from the European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions, an agency of the European Union based in Dublin, to carry out analyses of its 5th European Working Conditions Survey, which was completed in 34 countries during 2010. Working together with LLAKES researcher, Tarek Mostafa, Francis’s bid won the contract to devise job quality indices from the data, and to use the indices to describe the distribution and growth of job quality in Europe.

From the outset, the idea of job quality needed to be defined, the concept was focused squarely on objective features of the job, rather than on personal characteristics of the worker. Indices for wages, intrinsic work quality, employment quality (security and prospects), and work-life balance features were devised. Rather than focusing just on wages, which economists generally favoured, or combining them artificially to form a single index, it was decided to analyse the four indices separately. Tarek and Francis have since been busy analysing how these aspects of jobs vary across socioeconomic groups, and between European countries. We know that wages were increasing steadily in many countries, prior to the great recession of 2008, and that earnings had become much more unequal, including in Britain. Of particular interest is what’s been happening to the non-wage aspects of job quality over time. Is it getting any better? If so, in what dimensions? Is it becoming more unequally distributed across the population? Up to now very little has been known about these matters. Francis presented some initial findings on these issues to a conference on job quality in early November at Cornell University, New York State, organised by the Industrial and Labor Relations Review, in a paper entitled “Is job quality becoming more unequal?” In US conferences one is sometimes urged to make sure to include his “elevator” answer in his presentation, (i.e. the summary you would give to someone important if you found yourself describing your paper’s argument during a ride in the lift). In this case, Francis’ elevator statement required less than one floor: “not in Europe”. It was found that work quality, work intensity and work-life balance features were all becoming less, not more, unequal between 1995 and 2010; while environmental security (i.e. absence of physical and ergonomic hazards) was pretty stable.