In recent years there has been progressive recognition that individuals’ own perceptions of their wellbeing can be used to inform evidence-based policy, as these opinions complement more objective indicators of people’s welfare levels such as income or wealth. Self-perceptions of wellbeing in relation to one’s job, captured by job satisfaction reports, are not an exception, and are being researched and used in policy planning progressively more.
However, there are issues in using these subjective measures for these purposes. Particularly, it has been argued that when individuals report their job satisfaction they do not only take into account the objective circumstances that they experience. Instead, their own subjective perceptions are also used when making those judgments. Therefore, the level of job satisfaction reported by a person will be influenced by, for example, that person’s goals in life, life aspirations and expectations, perceived needs and sense of entitlement. As a result, different workers doing the same type of work within the same workplace may paradoxically report different levels of job satisfaction.
In this paper, we capitalize on unique survey data from the UK in which information is collected from many workers in the same workplaces. This is used to examine to which extent the job satisfaction scores reported by different workers who are in the same job vary from each other. We also examine which type of workers report higher contentment with the same job, and which sort report lower contentment.
Our results indicate that a vast majority of the differences in job satisfaction across individuals in the UK labor market are across individuals who are in the same jobs (rather than across individuals in different jobs). Importantly, we find that individuals who belong to collectives that are generally disadvantaged or marginalized within society and the labor market, such as women, very old or very young workers, non- white workers, homosexual workers and non-degree-educated workers are happier with the same jobs than workers from more advantaged collectives (i.e. male, middle-aged, non-white, heterosexual or non-degree-educated workers).
We conclude that academic and policy planners should be careful when using survey information on job satisfaction. Specifically, they should be aware that workers with different personal traits perceive the same realities differently and so job satisfaction scores cannot be taken as immediate indicators of job quality.
September 30, 2014