Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Trends in Job Satisfaction

Much of my work is aimed at helping people find satisfying jobs. That’s why I was interested to find a survey report (PDFhere) that looked at job satisfaction, among other fulfilling aspects of life. The report, “Trends in Psychological Well-Being, 1972–2014,” by Tom W. Smith, Jaesok Son, and Benjamin Schapiro, was published by the research institute NORC at the University of Chicago. (I earned my master’s degree there, but at that time I was researching English literature.)

The researchers looked at surveys that have measured people’s level of satisfaction in general, with one’s marriage, with one’s financial situation, with the level of excitement, and (most interesting to me) with one’s job. Specifically, they looked for trends in how people’s satisfaction changed over the past four decades.

It turns out that of all the kinds of satisfaction that they looked at, job satisfaction was the most stable over the time period that they examined. Here is a graph showing the trend for those reporting they were “very satisfied” with their job or housework:

Note the contrast with this graph of satisfaction with one’s financial situation—which shows a long-term decline and a notable dip apparently caused by the Great Recession:

In addition to the trends, note the levels of satisfaction shown here. At its very peak, in the late 1970s, financial satisfaction reached only 35 percent, whereas job satisfaction came close to 90 percent at times and never sank below 80 percent.

Using data from the report, I created the following graph showing trends in job satisfaction separately for men and women. You can see that the general trend is that women used to be less satisfied than men but lately have been more satisfied. My guess is that this is the result of growing opportunities for women in the workplace:

The researchers found that job satisfaction tends to increase with age; this was true for all years that they studied. It seems likely that as people age, they gain greater mastery over their job demands, they may get greater recognition for their skills, and they may learn which job environments suit them best and thus move into more satisfying situations. Here is a graph based on the average percentages of those “very satisfied” over the entire span of the study:

Finally, here are the trends for job satisfaction, with separate trend lines based on the level of education of the respondent: less than high school, high school, or college (or beyond).

Overall, those with more education tend to be more satisfied with their jobs. A notable exception occurs just at the beginning of this century, when those with less than high school showed the greatest satisfaction—evidently the result of the tail end of the tech boom. Conversely, the Great Recession seems to have dampened, at least temporarily, the satisfaction of those with more education.


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