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How's the Job? Well-Being and Social Capital in the Workplace

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  • John F. Heliwell
  • Haifang Huang

Abstract

This paper takes a different tack in addressing one of the fundamental questions in economics: what are the factors that determine the distribution of jobs and wages? In Adam Smith%u2019s classic formulation, and in much of the subsequent literature, wage levels have been used to estimate the values of job characteristics ("compensating" or "equalizing" differentials). There are econometric problems with this approach, principally caused by unmeasured differences in talents and aptitudes that enable people of high ability to have jobs with both high wages and good working conditions, thus understating the value of working conditions. We bypass this difficulty by estimating the extent to which incomes and job characteristics influence direct measures of life satisfaction from three large and recent Canadian surveys. The well-being results show strikingly large values for non-financial job characteristics, especially workplace trust and other measures of the quality of workplace social capital. The compensating differentials estimated for the quality of workplace social capital are so large as to suggest that they do not reflect a full equilibrium. Thus the current situation probably reflects the existence of unrecognized opportunities for managers and employees to alter workplace environments, or for workers to change jobs, so as to increase both life satisfaction and workplace efficiency.

Suggested Citation

  • John F. Heliwell & Haifang Huang, 2005. "How's the Job? Well-Being and Social Capital in the Workplace," NBER Working Papers 11759, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11759
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Cousineau, Jean-Michel & Lacroix, Robert & Girard, Anne-Marie, 1992. "Occupational Hazard and Wage Compensating Differentials," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(1), pages 166-169, February.
    2. Kingdon, Geeta Gandhi & Knight, John, 2007. "Community, comparisons and subjective well-being in a divided society," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 69-90, September.
    3. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1996. "Satisfaction and comparison income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 359-381, September.
    4. Frank, Robert H, 1997. "The Frame of Reference as a Public Good," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1832-1847, November.
    5. Morley Gunderson & Douglas Hyatt, 2001. "Workplace risks and wages: Canadian evidence from alternative models," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 34(2), pages 377-395, May.
    6. Dickens, William T, 1984. "Differences between Risk Premiums in Union and Nonunion Wages and the Case for Occupational Safety Regulation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 320-323, May.
    7. Ronald Meng, 1989. "Compensating Differences in the Canadian Labour Market," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 22(2), pages 413-424, May.
    8. Garen, John, 1988. "Compensating Wage Differentials and the Endogeneity of Job Riskiness," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 70(1), pages 9-16, February.
    9. Charles Brown, 1980. "Equalizing Differences in the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 94(1), pages 113-134.
    10. Kingdon, Geeta Gandhi & Knight, John, 2007. "Community, comparisons and subjective well-being in a divided society," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 69-90, September.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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