In this presentation we compare the effects of precarious employment careers on the subjective well-being of workers in three different socio-economic contexts: the liberal market economy of the U.S., the German coordinated market economy and the post-socialist economy of Poland. We apply a novel approach to defining and measuring precarious employment in quantitative studies, which, in our view, is better suited for cross-country analyses than the standard measures of fixed-term employment or subjective job insecurity.

There is ample evidence showing that job insecurity is related to lower life- and work satisfaction, higher stress levels and poorer health outcomes of workers. The theoretical rationale behind this association pertains to the key role of employment in work-centered societies not only as a means of earning a livelihood but especially as a source of social identity. However, the role of the national institutional settings as a moderator of these effects is still poorly understood. While several studies indicate that labour market policies, especially unemployment benefits, as well as stricter employment protection legislation for non-standard employment, may reduce the negative implications of unemployment for subjective well-being and health, ambiguity persists with respect to cross-country differences regarding the impact of precarious employment on well-being indicators.

This ambiguity is exacerbated by the difficulties involved in constructing an internationally comparable indicator of employment precarity based on existing survey data, for use in quantitative research. Direct subjective evaluations of job insecurity do not offer a solution, as they may themselves be affected by general well-being, causing problems of endogeneity. The few existing cross-national studies, notably, confined to Europe, use fixed-term employment as an operationalization of objective job insecurity. This, however, raises questions of comparability, given differences in the ways that labour relations are institutionalized and codified across countries. Furthermore, such a definition excludes an increasing share of potentially precarious self-employed workers. In order to overcome these difficulties, we conceptualize precarity as a characteristic of employment career sequences experienced by individuals, using measures which capture basic labour market statuses and events (like employer changes, staying out of work), that convey a comparable meaning across different institutional contexts. Specifically, we define as precarious career sequences involving high job turnover, periods of joblessness, and low income, and propose a quantification of precarity in the form of an index. By means of multivariate OLS regression models we then assess the conditional effects of precarious career sequences on subjective well-being in the three countries of interest, using data from panel surveys: the Polish Panel Survey, the German Socio-Economic Panel, and the U.S. National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth NLSY97.

Our study is part of the Cross-National Biographies of Youth (CNB-Young) project (, which harmonizes longitudinal data to create an open-source research infrastructure enabling the cross-national comparative study of employment precarity among young adults.