Have you ever wondered how your job affects your happiness? We all know that not all jobs are created equal. Some are awesome, while others … not so much. Well, it turns out that employment status and the type of work you do can have a big impact on how you feel – especially in developing countries where labour markets are usually tighter and switching between jobs can be more difficult.
A recent study by Carmichael, Darko and Vasilakos (2021) uses survey data from Ethiopia, Peru, India and Vietnam to answer this very question. The study found that the quality of work is a big deal when it comes to how young people feel. Not all jobs are ‘good jobs’ that automatically make you feel great. Although your wellbeing is likely to be higher when you’re in employment than when you’re not, there are certain job attributes that can push that ‘employment premium’ up or down. This is especially important to understand in countries like many in sub-Saharan Africa, where there aren’t many formal jobs, and people often end up overqualified for what they do.
What job attributes lead to higher wellbeing?
What then are the job attributes that are correlated with higher levels of wellbeing? The first is money: Okay, we know money can’t buy happiness, but it can certainly make life easier. We were therefore hardly surprised to find a positive and statistically significant association between hourly earnings and wellbeing.
We were also not surprised to find that a ‘poor working environment’ has a strong and highly significant negative effect on wellbeing.
Finally, feeling proud of your work is also found to be a strongly significant determinant of your wellbeing. After all, people tend to excel in things they like doing, which is probably part of the ‘transmission mechanism’ between ‘work pride’ and ‘subjective wellbeing’.
Which one of these attributes did you think had the greatest effect on wellbeing? Let me guess, many of you will say ‘earnings’. But then you would be wrong. Earnings were indeed positively associated with wellbeing and statistically significant at just about the 10% level, whereas work pride was very strongly statistically significant at the 1% level and had an effect on wellbeing that was four times greater than hourly earnings.
Putting yourself in a poor working environment on the other hand would reduce your wellbeing by almost twice as much as the earnings coefficient.
What does all this mean for policy-makers? If we want to make life better for young people in low-income countries, we need to tackle the problems from multiple angles.
First, young people need to be helped to get the skills they need for the job market. This can be done through things like training programmes and apprenticeships. However, not all of these programmes are created equal. Some have great results, and others not so much.
But that’s not the whole story. In many countries, there’s a massive informal job market. It’s a place where people work but often don’t have the rights or protections that formal employees do. So, even if young people get trained, they might not find the ‘good’ jobs they’re hoping for.
Changes also need to be made on a much bigger scale. This often includes decentralising public investment to include rural areas, improving infrastructure, and encouraging private investment. Strengthening labour market rules and social protection can help too, by making sure that work is safe and fair.
In a nutshell, where you work and what kind of work you do can make a big difference to how you feel.
If policy-makers want to help young people in low-income countries, they need both to give them the skills they require and to create better job opportunities. But policy-makers also need to make bigger changes to the way things work, like boosting production and making sure jobs are safe and fair.
In the end, it’s about making life better for young people around the world. Let’s keep working on it!
- Well-being and employment of young people in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam: Is work enough?
- The search for ‘meaning’ at work
- Job Satisfaction Is Rising: What’s Behind The Surprising Tend
- Young workers are embracing AI, job satisfaction rising: 2023 Young Generation in Tech report
- ‘These jobs can be respectable too’: Why youths in China are abandoning white-collar jobs for ‘light labor’
- Does Work Make You Happy? Evidence from the World Happiness Report
- Worker well-being is in demand as organizational culture shifts
- Understanding children’s work and youth employment outcomes in Indonesia
- Where are We with Young People’s Wellbeing? Evidence from Nigerian Demographic and Health Surveys 2003–2013
- Employment Status and Well-Being Among Young Individuals. Why Do We Observe Cross-Country Differences?
- Employment Mismatches Drive Expectational Earnings Errors among Mozambican Graduates
- Youth Employment and Skills Development in The Gambia
Development Policy Review, Fiona Carmichael, Christian K. Darko and Nicholas Vasilakos (18/5/21)
BBC Worklife, Kate Morgan (7/9/22)
Forbes, Tracy Brower (4/6/23)
Silicon Canals (4/10/23)
CNBC, Goh Chiew Tong (6/6/23)
Harvard Business Review, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and George Ward (20/3/17)
American Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology, Heather Stringer (1/1/23)
Understanding Children’s Work (UCW) Programme, Villa Aldobrandini and V. Panisperna (June 2012)
Social Indicators Research, pp.803–33, Boniface Ayanbekongshie Ushie and Ekerette Emmanuel Udoh (November 2016)
Social Indicators Research, Dominik Buttler (29/6/22)
The World Bank Economic Review, Sam Jones, Ricardo Santos and Gimelgo Xirinda (27/7/23)
World Bank Working Paper 217, Nathalie Lahire, Richard Johanson and Ryoko Tomita Wilcox (2011)
- How does the quality of work impact the happiness and wellbeing of young people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and why is this significant in the context of job opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa?
- What are some potential solutions and strategies discussed in the article for improving the wellbeing of young people in LMICs, particularly in the context of employment and job opportunities?
- Have you ever experienced a job that significantly (positively or negatively) impacted your wellbeing or happiness? Reflect on your experience and how it influenced your overall life satisfaction?
- How is AI likely to affect the wellbeing of young professional workers?
- How is the pandemic likely to have affected job satisfaction?