The Neglected Economics of Having a Job You Like

A blog about business and economics.
Nov. 19 2012 11:16 AM

The Neglected Economics of Trying To Find a Job You Enjoy Doing

1353341760544
Mmm ... barbecue

Courtesy Pecan Lodge.

Everyone knows that money aside, it's better to have a job you love than a job you hate. Some of that is the nature of the task. I think the issues I cover are really interesting, but lots of people aren't interested in them and would find it extremely tedious to write about them all day. And some of it is c-oworkers. Most people spend a lot of time at their place of work and a lot of time interacting with your co-workers. Working alongside people whose company you enjoy is much better than working alongside people you hate.

And yet even though everyone knows these things, the nonmonetary aspects of job quality are an incredibly neglected topic in economics.

I was reminded of this the other day when I caught up with an old friend who's a recently minted economics Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and whose job-market paper "Match Quality with Unpriced Amenities" is precisely on this subject. "Typically, monetary productivity is assumed to be the sole determinant of the worker-firm match," even though that clearly isn't the case, he writes. The work of the paper is to try to build a tractable structural search model that "allows job match quality to depend additionally on unpriced job amenities" (i.e., people try to find jobs they like) and "permitting match quality estimation that is robust to both unobserved amenities and selection." One takeaway from the paper is that traditional estimates of deadweight loss from wage taxation are producing overestimates, and that's increasingly the case as unpriced amenities become more important.

Advertisement

This subject also strikes me as relevant to the conversation around productivity growth. We have a stylized fact whereby as a society gets richer, its citizens should be expected to consume more leisure at the margin. And indeed we see that over time hours worked has tended to fall in rich countries.

In that case what you see is that wages (how much do you earn per hour) rise faster than incomes (how much do you earn per year) because higher wages in part induce less work. But that's driven by a very simplistic picture of the economy, where you're either working on the assembly line (earning wages) or at home watching TV (enjoying leisure). Another thing people can do is deliberately earn lower wages in order to obtain better job amenities. I was reading the other day about Pecan Lodge in Dallas: Newcomer of the Year at the 2012 Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. Its founders used to be consultants with Accenture, but they decided they'd rather quit and smoke meat.

That's really the same kind of leisure/income tradeoff as you see if workers cut back their hours, but it'll show up differently in national statistics. Instead of wages and productivity rising while income stays flat and hours fall, you'll see hours stay flat while wages and productivity fall. Phlogiston economics will say that Pecan Lodge is an example of technological innovation slowing down since it reduces total factor productivity, when it's really just an example of people taking advantage of the fact that America is a wealthy society to try to improve their unpriced job amenities.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.