Viewpoint: Prosperity Can't Buy Job Satisfaction

Dec. 21, 2004
A survey reveals that Denmark has the happiest workers.

Would you like to move to the United States? Think again -- that's the message from a survey of workers from around the world. Try Denmark instead. Or Switzerland. Or even sunny Cyprus. David Blanchflower, a colleague at the Warwick University, Coventry, England, and I have surveyed 20,000 randomly chosen workers. We used information from face-to-face interviews. These people have answered more questions than you can imagine. But a particularly interesting one is this: ''Taking everything into account, how satisfied or dissatisfied would you say you are with your job?'' The attraction to a researcher like me is that exactly the same wording is used in every country. So what did we find? The outcome is surprising. Across a large number of nations, Denmark is the top-ranked country. In Denmark 62% of workers are completely or very satisfied with their jobs. In Great Britain, which is by contrast low down, the equivalent figure is only 36% of workers. The United States does reasonably well, but not nearly as well as you would think. In the U.S. 49% of people are very satisfied with their jobs. That puts it at eighth in the world job-satisfaction league table. Respectable, but not great. Nations such as Switzerland (53%) and Spain (50%) outperform the United States and Britain. Even the Philippines and Cyprus easily surpass America and Britain. For prosperous places, the United States and Britain don't do as well in these latest job-satisfaction rankings as they should. Through other research, I have found that job satisfaction is actually lower now in the United States than it was in the 1970s. This is remarkable -- considering how well the U.S. economy is supposed to be doing. And my British findings are consistent with other evidence that the 1990s was not an especially good decade in my country's workplaces. So what is going on? The honest answer is that we don't yet understand why certain countries do poorly. Stress appears to be rising in some of the world's richest nations. Job insecurity and longer commutes are, we think, part of the explanation. Yet in the American and British examples there is another factor. People in these two countries work very long hours -- much longer than in the typical European nation. We then pay the penalty. So much for all that money if you don't have time to watch football or read to the children. Still, Britons and Americans can look on the bright side. You could be living in Hungary. It is bottom of the league table. Only 23% are happy at work. The best advice? Head for Copenhagen, put your feet up, and enjoy life. Andrew Oswald is professor of economics at Warwick University in Coventry, England. His research on the labor market, macroeconomics, the study of happiness, and job satisfaction data can be found at This opinion column was distributed by Bridge News.

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