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Value of Work

Value of Work

This research project examines the (changing) value of work in contemporary society, in particular in the Netherlands.

Over the past decades, major changes have taken place in the labour market in advanced economies. Not only the nature of work transformed as a result of – amongst others – technological developments and globalisation, but also the size and structure of the labour force changed markedly under the influence of for instance the sharp increase in women’s labour force participation and demographic changes (such as population ageing and immigration). Workers and employers coped with profound changes in the organisation of work (including a trend towards more flexibility and out-sourcing) and there was a shift within families with respect to the balance between work and family lives. Both media and experts have paid particular attention to questions on how various macro-level developments affect the quantity of jobs. However, all these transformations also have a severe impact on how individuals experience and value work and the ‘utility’ individuals derive from their jobs -both in pecuniary and non-pecuniary terms. Over time, a large literature has emerged on the value individuals attach to their work cross-nationally and on developments in the value of work. Although scientists, employers and employees share the notion that the way work is organised has changed radically, we have yet to arrive at a coherent picture of the implications of these developments. The project ‘Value of Work’, supported by the Goldschmeding Foundation, aims to shed more light on these implications.

In this research project, “value of work” in the first place refers to ‘general’ valuations of work, which can be captured in concepts such as the importance of work to one’s life (‘work centrality’), work ethic (e.g. ‘It is humiliating to receive money without having to work’) and ‘employment commitment’ (e.g. ‘I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money’). These concepts are not dependent on employment status and can be evaluated both by workers and by non-workers. Second, “value of work” may refer to the value individuals derive from their jobs, which is captured in concepts such as ‘job satisfaction’ and ‘quality of working life’, as well as through extrinsic and intrinsic rewards from work (‘job outcomes’). These concepts are by their nature restricted to those individuals currently employed.

Theoretical background

Given the broad and varied nature of the value of work it is considered essential to adopt an interdisciplinary perspective, combining insights and approaches from different disciplines, such as sociology, psychology and economics.

Research questions in the project

  • What factors determine – according to contemporary scientific insights – the value of work?
  • (How) does the value of work differ between advanced economies and across time?
  • How do formal and informal institutions on work and income differ and develop in advanced economies?
  • How are the value and valuation of both paid and unpaid work related to a) individual and work characteristics, b) the (organizational) context in which the work is conducted and c) how to both formal and informal institutions on work and income affect the realization of the maximum value of work?

Multi-method approach

Various methods are used to provide a rich collection of evidence-based insights, including statistical analyses of large scale surveys among a representative sample of the population and qualitative analyses of in-depth interviews with a selected sample of working and non-working individuals.

Literature review

  • Conen, W., & de Beer, P. (2018). The value of work in a changing labour market: a review and research agenda. (AIAS-HSI Working Paper Series; No. 1). Amsterdam: AIAS-HSI

Qualitative research

  • Stiller, S. (2019). Between incremental changes and large shifts: The development of employment institutions in five EU countries and the United States (1990-2016). (AIAS-HSI Working Paper Series; No. 7). Amsterdam: AIAS-HSI

Secondary data analyses:

  • Conen, W. (2019). The value of work in a changing labour market: An analysis of workers’ surveys 1997-2015. (AIAS-HSI Working Paper Series; No. 4). Amsterdam: AIAS-HSI
  • Stiller, S., & de Beer, P. (2019). Revealing variation in employment institutions: A cluster analysis of OECD and EU countries. (AIAS-HSI Working Paper Series; No. 6). Amsterdam: AIAS-HSI
  • Conen, W. (2018). Waarden van werk. Economisch-Statistische Berichten, 103(4760), 186-189

The Value of Work Monitor [Waarde van Werk Monitor]

The Value of Work Monitor [WWM] is a large-scale, national survey on the value of work in the Netherlands. It provides insight into how the value and valuation of both paid and unpaid work is related to a) individual and work characteristics, b) the (organizational) context and c) formal and informal institutions on work and income. The first wave was conducted in Spring 2019 among approx. 3.500 Dutch citizens between 18-70 years of age.

  • Conen, W., & de Beer, P. (2019). Waarde van Werk 2019. De waarde(ring) van betaald en onbetaald werk en de invloed van organisaties en instituties.


Prof. dr. P.T. (Paul) de Beer


Dr. W.S. (Wieteke) Conen