Job Quality in the 21st Century

Project Lead

Francis Green



Policymakers around the world have often expressed the aim of generating not only more, but also ‘better’ jobs. Having reviewed the many conceptual and empirical issues in analysing the antecedents and effects of job quality, this project is studying trends in job quality in recent decades across multiple countries. 

Research on job quality dates back hundreds of years, but by the start of this century the idea of aspiring for ‘more and better jobs’ had gained currency, not just among social science scholars but in the highest circles of some national governments and international organisations. 

‘Job quality’ refers to much more than just the wages paid, including several domains that research has found to contribute to satisfying people’s needs from paid work. These include security and future prospects, the quality of the working time, and several intrinsic aspects of the work itself and the workplace environment. However, despite progress over the last two decades, and despite its important for people’s wellbeing, there remain conceptual confusions and huge gaps and inconsistencies in our understanding of job quality. 

This project, which is based on secondary data analysis, is producing new knowledge about trends in job quality across many countries. The specific objectives are: 

a) to produce clarity and consistency in the discussion of job quality, both among scholars of diverse disciplines and among policy-makers; 

b) to describe and account where possible for trends in available indicators of job quality in various domains; 

c) to devise and operationalise a consistent definition of ‘bad jobs’ across countries, and undertake an analysis of the determinants of bad jobs; and 

d) to consider whether trends conform to expected patterns given the institutional similarities and differences between countries. 

The project began on March 1st 2022 and will last until Sept 30th 2024. Its first output is a Bruegel Working Paper in the summer of 2022, which is now published in the European Journal of Industrial Relations (see Findings). 

The project presented the following paper at the CIPD Applied Research Conference at Manchester Business School in January 2023, and again at the  International Society for Ouality of Life Studies (ISQOLS) annual conference in Rotterdam in August 2023: Francis Green, Sangwoo Lee, Min Zhou and Ying Zhou  “Work and life: the comparative importance of job quality for general well-being.” 

The project presented the following paper at the International Working Party on Labour Market Segmentation in Paris, September 2023: Francis Green “For better or worse? Job Quality in the Global Economy.” 

The project presented the following paper in February 2024 at the ISQOLS Winter Conference (online) and again at the London School of Economics CEP Wellbeing Seminar: Francis Green and Sangwoo Lee “ ‘Bad Jobs’ in Europe: Derivation and Analysis of a Wellbeing-Related Job Quality Threshold  



Berg, J., F. Green, L. Nurski and D. Spencer (2022) ‘Risks to job quality from  digital technologies: are industrial relations in Europe ready for the challenge?Working Paper 16/2022, Bruegel. Now published as: Berg, J., F. Green, L. Nurski and D. Spencer 2023. “Risks to job quality from digital technologies: Are industrial relations in Europe ready for the challenge?” European Journal of Industrial Relations 29(4): 347-365.

Green, F., S. Lee, Y. Zhou and M. Zou 2024. “Work and life: the relative importance of job quality for general well-being, and implications for social surveys.” Socio-Economic Review online. 


Lee, Sangwoo and Green, Francis, Job Quality in South Korea: Progress or Decline? (February 24, 2024). Available at SSRN: 

Green, Francis and Lee, Sangwoo, ‘Bad Jobs’ in Europe: Derivation and Analysis of a Wellbeing-Related Job Quality Threshold (February 23, 2024). Available at SSRN: 


Francis Green Hard at Work. Job Quality, Wellbeing and the Global Economy. Oxford University Press. Expected 2025. 

In 2017, one in three South Koreans, two in three Britons, and as many as three in five Americans said that they were working for their employers ‘at very high speeds’ or to ‘tight deadlines’ for at least three quarters of their time at work. So many people hard at work, and for so long! This book springs from the conviction that, if work is absorbing so much of people’s lives, we social scientists had better be well-placed to understand and account for their evolving experiences in this realm. 

It is not such an extravagant claim that we should be able to develop a science of job quality, and indeed this is an emerging interdisciplinary, scientific field. Work is the predicament – and the opportunity – that almost everybody on earth finds themselves in at some time. Unless you believe that there will be a global revolution, capitalism is here to stay for the foreseeable future, whatever disruptions climate change will rain upon this planet. And capitalism means that most work is done in the context of jobs, wherein people sell their ‘labour-power’ – their potential to work – to employers in exchange for money. Adult Americans in paid work devote about a third of their waking hours to this relationship. But there is an immense variety in the quality of jobs: from the best, where the work is meaningful, well-paced, safe, well-paid with good prospects and a fount of social support and validation from a community; to the worst, where the work is tightly controlled, low-paid, insecure, fast-paced, and the environment dangerous and toxic. All types of jobs co-exist in the global economy, but are the good ones expanding, and if so for whom? What if any are the signs of social progress in this part of our lives? Or are the bad jobs taking over?  

This book provides some answers to these questions, creatively using data from around the developed world. Locating its analysis in terms of the ‘capabilities’ afforded by jobs, it deploys a general job quality framework now widely utilised for analysis. With paid work being something that almost everyone does at some time or another, many have opinions about the quality of their jobs. Presenting a new scientific analysis which builds on the rich literature in this emerging field, the style of the book treads a path between the every-day language and experience of work, and an overly specialised, jargon-dense formality. Drawing on ideas, theories and evidence from economics (the author’s own training), sociology, psychology and occasionally from related areas, it adopts a narrative style supported by diagrams based on formal analyses of job quality trends.