In a newly published article in the ANNALS of Political Science from the CUPESSE project we explored the effect of unemployment and quality of work on work values. The effects were unexpected; unemployment experience did not have an effect on work values, but overqualification and precarious contracts had opposite effects to each other.

Changes to the modern labour market have affected the way people experience work. We see increased flexibility, higher education levels, overqualification, high unemployment and the rise of precarious work. These developments have had the greatest effect on young people who are new to the labour market. Youth unemployment affects can have long term scarring effects for the individual and carries a significant economic cost to society.

Previous research has explored generational differences in work values. Millennials (allegedly) care much more about self-fulfilment and work being fun than their parents. But we also know that economic conditions, level of unemployment and thus competition for jobs, also affect what people want from a job. When times are tough people care more about job security and pay – or extrinsic work values. When things are better they care more about independent working and opportunities for development – or intrinsic work values.

Whilst most economies have recovered from the Great Recession and unemployment levels are reduced, there is now an increasing concern for the quality of work. In our recent article we explore the effect of unemployment experience and quality of work on young Europeans work values. We use data on approximately 11,000 young people aged 18-35 in 11 European countries, collected as part of the CUPESSE project. We define low-quality work is as precarious or nonstandard jobs (casual, temporary, fractional work, or disadvantageous contracts – e.g., zero hours) and/or jobs in which workers believe that their qualifications are beyond the requirements of their current position (i.e., they consider themselves to be overqualified for the job). We also explored the effect of previous experience of unemployment, but in contrast to previous research we did not find a statistically significant relationship between unemployment experience and either of the work values.

Looking at the quality of work we expected that those who had experienced low quality work (overqualification and precarious work) would value extrinsic values, security and pay, more than those who had not had these experiences. We also thought that those who had experience of low quality work would value intrinsic values, independence and development, less than those who had not had these working conditions. However, our results showed that the different aspects of low quality work, overqualification and precarious work, had opposite effects. As expected those who think they are overqualified for their job value pay and security more than those who are not overqualified. However, those who were in precarious work valued intrinsic aspects of the job, independent working and development, more than those who had a permanent contract.

What this research shows is that working conditions also have a socialising effect and influence what young people want out of a job. Short-term contracts are now common in a number of sectors and increasing numbers of graduates mean that the jobs market is more competitive than ever. This means we are seeing more young people working in precarious conditions or doing jobs that they’re overqualified for. Our research has illustrated some of the potential long term consequences of this in terms of the attitudes of the labour force, and it is important that policies start reflecting this reality of young people’s working conditions in the modern labour market.

For more information see the press release here and the original article here.

Dr Emily Rainsford is a Research Associate at Newcastle University working on the role of family in young people’s pathways to employment as well as young people’s experiences of the labour market.