Australian Job Satisfaction

I’m pulling together some research for a longer post, but I came across a paper which merited a separate look by itself. Blanchflower and Oswald’s 2005 paper looked at reported satisfaction of folks in a range of countries, as a counterpart to the Human Development Index (HDI). Although Australia ranks highly on the HDI (now 2nd per the most recent data), they found that Australia performs poorly on a range of happiness indicators, particularly job satisfaction. Are we flipping the old stereotypes and becoming whinging Aussies, or are there other effects at play?

Looking at reported satisfaction across 35 countries covering what could generally be called the developed world, the authors find that Australians rank between 11th-14th for four measures of satisfaction, and 25th (ahead of only those in Eastern Europe, Japan, Taiwan and France) on the fifth, job satisfaction. Australia comes bottom or equal bottom of the English speaking nations included (Aus, GB, Ireland, NZ, NI and the USA) on happiness, family satisfaction and job satisfaction. And this is data from 2002, so any impacts of our nutcase property market have yet to hit!


This paper’s assertions on job satisfaction seem to have gone through to the ‘keeper, with Andrew Leigh (now MP for Fenner) and Justin Wolfers paper refuting the assertion that Australia was a paradox, but that instead Australia was about where would be expected on a regression between HDI and happiness. That seems fair enough, but doesn’t actually counter Australia’s low position in happiness and particularly job satisfaction.


Fleming and Kler’s 2008 paper sheds light on one potential driver – overeducation. Australia’s workforce is highly educated, and this will only have increased with the deregulation of university places since the 2001 data used. In the 2001 HILDA dataset, the authors found that 34.26% were overeducated. This study also finds that overeducation is significantly correlated with a reduction in job satisfaction among an Australian sample.


Kler, Leeves and Shankar’s 2015 paper is primarily focused on job security effects, but includes an overeducation level of 20.9% for 2007-2009, with minimal change from the pre GFC 2001-2007 years. This doesn’t seem to correlate with the measure listed above in Fleming & Kler, 2008. Notably, this study does also support the view that the overeducated have reduced job satisfaction. However, this level of overeducation is not confined to Australia (or at least was not at the time of the Blanchflower & Oswald paper), with both Australia and Great Britain featuring similarly overeducated workforces per Mavromaras et al, 2007. Given the Third Way policies of both the Keating and Blair governments, this is unsurprising. This does however dispel the idea that Australia’s labour market is uniquely overeducated and that this is the reason for its low job satisfaction.


We pick back up on the ISSP with Speerforck & Richter’s 2014 paper using the 2005 ISSP data that shows Australia again ranks lowly for job satisfaction, ranking 17th of 24 in this study (worse countries – Sweden, Slovenia, Russia, Taiwan, France, South Korea, Japan). Australians are particularly keen on having an Interesting Job and a Good Relationship with Management, ranking in the top three for the importance of these areas. Good Relationships With Colleagues, Income and Compatibility of Work and Family are considered less important than the studywide average. Australia stands out as a country where a Low Workload is important to workers and this need is not being fulfilled. This is rated the fourth worst of the countires studied. As these are employee derived figures however, we cannot differentiate between actual overwork and employee lazyness. The importance of an Interesting Job is interesting in correlation with what we know about overeducation, but as with our overeducation study the UK has similarly high importance and score on Interesting Work while achieving higher ratings elsewhere for 10th overall.


Data from the 2015 version of the ISSP study does exist but is behind an academic wall, so I can’t run the numbers myself. And the academics don’t appear to have sunk their teeth in to a level where I can grab it from them. So at this stage the data does appear to support the idea that job satisfaction is particularly poor in Australia (from the two ISSP surveys), but there isn’t really enough evidence to support the theory that it is due to overeducation. Overeducation does cause decreases in job satisfaction, but Australia isn’t demonstrably more overeducated than elsewhere. Workloads are another potential factor, though how much this can be put down to cultural values and how much might actually be comparatively heavy workloads is open for debate. Maybe we are just whinging Aussies.


Also: Given job satisfaction is particuarly low in this country compared with its peers, why is there so little research into why? It seems we’re happy to trumpet our high HDI, but are reticent to undertake more critical analysis where issues may appear. There is a decent base of literature on the particulars of immigrant experiences and those in specific occupations, but little which is generalisable to the whole Australian experience. Certainly not enough that I can find to explain this apparent problem. Do👏more👏research👏.