In general, the more an occupation pays, the better its overall job quality. However, there are many interesting exceptions to this. For instance, we identify a group of ‘artisan occupations’ that are some of the lowest-paid but have modest overall job quality (such as beauticians, clergy, hairdressers, pub landlords, and bakers).
Conversely, we also identify a group of ‘routine professionals’ that are some of the highest-paid but have only modest overall job quality (mainly related to finance, law, IT, and various other licensed professions).
When defining the occupational quality structure in terms of overall job quality and not just pay, we find no evidence the labour market has polarized in the last three decades.
In general, the occupational quality structure has been upgrading through an expansion in the highest quality occupations and decline in lower quality occupations. However, the pace of upgrading has stalled in the last 15 years.
In general, the lowest quality occupations are most at risk of automation, with the highest quality occupations having the lowest risk, implying a potentially positive evolution in the occupational structure with respect to overall job quality.
However, job quality has been getting worse in three critical respects across the occupational spectrum. Work has been getting more routine, more controlled, and more intense for all workers.
Depending on the extent to which displaced workers can smoothly transition into growing higher-quality occupations, a potentially more urgent issue is the declining intrinsic job quality of all workers.
Since job quality is multidimensional, key to mapping disparities in it is developing a metric that meaningfully and transparently summarises the overall hierarchy in the quality of work. To do this, we developed the Good Work Index (GWI).
The GWI is a summary indicator based on nine indicators of job quality (wages, job security, continuous learning requirements, skill-use opportunities, task variety, task discretion, job demands, control over working time, and participation opportunities)—with each component weighted according to how much it influences job satisfaction for the average worker. In line with decades of prior research, we find factors related to the nature of work weigh more heavily in determining the wellbeing potential of jobs relative to more extrinsic factors like pay.
Using the GWI as a proxy for overall job quality, we find that managerial and professional occupations have the best job quality on average, with manual and routine occupations having the worst, and intermediate occupations in the middle.
There are no noticeable differences across categories of workplace size nor between unionized and non-unionized workplaces.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is little difference between the genders on average. However, worryingly, we find a large ethnic job quality penalty.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, graduates enjoy better jobs and there is an age gradient with younger workers tending to work in lower quality jobs.
Overall job quality is associated with more positive affect, lower negative affect, more positive job attitudes, and higher life satisfaction. Importantly, these effects tend to be non-linear. The negative effects of very low quality work is bigger than the positive effects of high quality work.
Clearly, moving people out of lower quality jobs and into higher quality ones remains an important goal for increasing positive job attitudes and national wellbeing.