Recent research suggests that many workers in modern economies think that their job is socially useless, i.e., that it makes no or a negative contribution to society. However, the evidence so far is mainly anecdotal. We use a representative dataset comprising 100,000 workers from forty-seven countries at four points in time. We find that approximately 8 percent of workers perceive their job as socially useless, while another 17 percent are doubtful about the usefulness of their job. There are sizeable differences among countries, sectors, occupations, and age groups, but no trend over time. A vast majority of workers cares about holding a socially useful job and we find that they suffer when they consider their job useless. We also explore possible causes of socially useless jobs, including bad management, strict job protection legislation, harmful economic activities, labor hoarding, and division of labor.

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JEL Time Allocation, Work Behavior, and Employment Determination and Creation; Human Capital (jel J2), Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs (jel J3), Particular Labor Markets (jel J4), Labor Standards: National and International (jel J8), Personnel Economics (jel M5)
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Journal Industrial Relations
Dur, A.J, & van Lent, M. (2019). Socially Useless Jobs. Industrial Relations, 58(1), 3–16. doi:10.1111/irel.12227