Ageing towards meaningful work? Age, labour-market change, and attitudes to work in the Swedish workforce, 1979–2003

  • Johan Örestig Department of Sociology, Umeå university
Keywords: Age, work attitudes, labour-market change


A central finding in earlier research on work orientation is that there are substantial age-differences regarding attitudes to work. Generally, more older workers describe their jobs as intrinsically meaningful than younger workers. This result has been interpreted in three different ways, the psychological, the cultural, and the structural hypotheses, where the first emphasizes cognitive age-differences, the second sees age-differences as outcomes of generational differences, and the third regards them as expressions of labour-market inequalities. These different approaches lead to quite different hypotheses regarding recent developments, but the relevant research is limited. Drawing on data from the Swedish survey of living conditions (ULF), this study has examined attitudinal change within the Swedish workforce during 1979–2003. Three sub-periods, 1986-1987, 1994-1996, and 2001-2003 were compared with 1979, the year of reference. The results showed that a consistently smaller share of the workforce held extrinsic work values in the subsequent periods, and that this applied to all age-groups. Further, the results did not support the assumption of broader cultural differences between generations. Rather, the results provide support for the structural hypothesis. Older workers held extrinsic work values to a lesser degree than younger workers regardless of period. Most strikingly, the gap between the youngest group on the labour market (ages 16–29) and the older groups widened during the period. Furthermore, class differences in the distribution of the extrinsic attitude were intact throughout the study period; manual employees were consistently more likely to hold an extrinsic attitude than were service-class employees. This implies that differences in the probability of extrinsic work attitudes have been identifiable regardless of period, but that their prevalence has decreased as jobs involving features related to extrinsic work values have decreased since 1979.
How to Cite
Örestig, J. (2014). Ageing towards meaningful work? Age, labour-market change, and attitudes to work in the Swedish workforce, 1979–2003. Nordic Journal of Social Research, 5.