The curse of high aspirations

March 12, 1999

Graduates are less happy in their jobs than people with fewer qualifications, according to research by Andrew Oswald and Jonathan Gardner at the University of Warwick.

"Those with more schooling and more qualifications are less satisfied in their jobs," said Professor Oswald. "It is what I call the curse of high aspirations."

The study also reveals that in the early 1990s, public sector workers were much more satisfied in their jobs than private sector workers. In the past few years, however, public sector happiness has fallen to private sector levels. "My guess is that the assessment and stress that has been introduced is making work tougher for public sector employees," said Professor Oswald. "It seems to me that we need efficiency but we are some way from identifying how best to achieve it."

Professor Oswald drew his conclusions from annual interviews of 7,000 British workers conducted between 1991 and 1997. He found that two-thirds of people rated themselves as satisfied in their work.

Both young and old workers were happy in their jobs, with those aged 30-something less satisfied. "Early on, we have very high hopes and then we gradually learn that we are competing with very talented people. Later we come to terms with that," said Professor Oswald.

Unsurprisingly, people earning large salaries or working short hours were happy with their jobs. Supervisors also tended to be happier than more junior staff.

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