The Law of the Labour Market — Industrialization, Employment, and Legal Evolution – Simon Deakin and Frank Wilkinson

Published date01 June 2006
Date01 June 2006
British Journal of Industrial Relations
44:2 June 2006 0007–1080 pp. 373–391
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd/London School of Economics 2006. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd,
9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Blackwell Publishing Ltd.Oxford, UKBJIRBritish Journal of Industrial Relations0007-1080Blackwell Publishing Ltd/London School of Economics 2006June 2006442373391Book Reviews
Book ReviewsBritish Journal of Industrial Relations
Demanding Work — The Paradox of Job Quality in the Affluent Economy
by Francis
Green. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2006, xiii
225 pp., ISBN 0 6911
17128, £26.95.
Demanding Work
takes on the remarkably ambitious task of assessing the quality of
jobs in the industrialized world, paying special attention not just to the usual suspects
of wage and hours of work but the nature of the tasks performed and the subjective
experience of employees.
To address this task, Francis Green makes use of a wide array of data, much of it
longitudinal and most of it cross-national. What is most unusual about this volume
is its ability to present information for and draw conclusions about workplace
experiences such as the level of discretion that individuals have in performing tasks,
the intensification or level of effort required and measures of overall satisfaction with
jobs. While psychologists use measures like these extensively, they have rarely done so
to address questions concerning the state of the labour force as a whole or trends in
it over time. Assembling several such measures in a systematic accounting along with
more traditional measures of job quality is a substantial achievement for this volume
and provides arguably the best overall account available anywhere of the circum-
stances of jobs and workers across the developed world.
To summarize the key findings, jobs appear to be getting worse on the more
subjective criteria associated with the performance of tasks, such as declining discre-
tion and increasing work effort; there is substantial evidence across countries that skill
requirements appear to be rising, although in my view this affects job quality only
through its effects on other outcomes, such as wages and discretion or autonomy; real
wages have risen in most countries, albeit below the rate of productivity increase and
have stagnated over time in some significant countries, notably the USA. In addition
to these mean effects, there are also important stories associated with the variance
of experiences. Wage inequality is up substantially but especially in countries where
wages have stagnated, implying significant declines for the lower paid. The report in
the volume that average hours of work have declined is an example where variations
in the experience across the labour force could suggest a different overall conclusion.
In the USA, for example, average hours that individuals work appear to have held
steady (not declined based on individual data) despite the fact that the percentage of
employees working long overtime hours has increased because there are now so many
more workers in jobs that are less than full-time. The mean may have fallen, but the
conclusion is not necessarily a happy one for workers.
In my view, the study’s overall conclusion and most important story is that the
quality of jobs across the developing world appears on average to be stagnating —
British Journal of Industrial Relations
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd/London School of Economics 2006.
declining on several dimensions, unchanged or only marginally better on others. This
is despite the fact that these economies are growing, in many cases significantly so.
What one thinks about this situation depends on what one expects the trend in job
quality to be. Should it be keeping pace with overall growth in these economies, with
growth in per capita gross national product or at least in labour productivity? By
standards like these, overall job quality appears clearly to be falling behind, although
an explicit comparison along these lines in the book would have been helpful. Another
obvious comparison would be how these trends compare to returns to capital, which
casual observation suggests have done rather well over the past generation. The author
rightly points out that there is a puzzle in understanding why measures like employee
discretion at work have declined, especially if skill requirements are rising. It calls into
question common assumptions about the post-industrial, knowledge economies.
The results could also be used to address a related question, how different economic
systems compare with respect to job related outcomes. Here the story is not com-
pletely clear, but it does appear that the countries that have had the greatest success
in generating jobs and lowering unemployment, the USA in particular but also the
UK, come off relatively badly on most measures of job quality. The countries that
have the most intensive regulation of employment, especially the Scandinavian coun-
tries, come off much better. The variance across countries in their experience also
suggests the obvious point that national context matters enormously to national
outcomes. There is no necessary trend towards improvement in job quality across the
board. And this suggests the important conclusion that will be of no surprise to
readers of this Journal: employment institutions and context matter.
The book is clear in exposition, judicious in evaluating evidence and balanced in
conclusions. If there is a quirky aspect to the book, it is that it spends a great deal of
time explaining how economists think about the constructs that have been generated
by other fields, particularly those produced by branches of psychology. It would have
been much more useful to explain how psychologists see these measures as that would
tell us more about their strengths and weaknesses. Self-reported attitudinal data have
several biases, such as habituation, where respondents get used to miserable jobs, for
example, and stop reporting them as so miserable. Responses also change based on
comparison events outside their immediate workplace. Reports of job satisfaction, for
example, always rise during recessions. Caveats like these do not necessarily weaken
the conclusions. The fact that trends are discernable despite some of these biases may
make the results even more credible.
Overall, this is an important book that extends our study of labour market out-
comes into the workplace experience of individual workers. It is an important read
for anyone concerned about the state of working people around the world as well as
the future of modern economies.
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Managing to Change? British Workplaces and the Future of Work
by Michael White,
Stephen Hill, Colin Mills and Deborah Smeaton. Palgrave Macmillan,
Basingstoke, 2004, xi
214 pp., ISBN 1 4039 38059, £52.50.
The authors of this highly informative text argue that our experiences of work and
working are transforming. While at work, they tell us, we are, increasingly, expected

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