Socially Useless Jobs

14 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2018

See all articles by Robert Dur

Robert Dur

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Economics; Tinbergen Institute; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Max van Lent

Leiden University

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Date Written: January 2019


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.

Suggested Citation

Dur, Robert and van Lent, Max, Socially Useless Jobs (January 2019). Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Vol. 58, Issue 1, pp. 3-16, 2019, Available at SSRN: or

Robert Dur (Contact Author)

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Economics ( email )

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CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Max Van Lent

Leiden University ( email )

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