The Quality of Employment in the Academic Literature: Definitions, Methodologies, and Ongoing Debate

Brendan Burchell
Kirsten Sehnbruch
Agnieszka Piasna
Nurjk Agloni
Dev-out Working Paper Series



This article explores the development of the notion of quality of employment in two contexts: developed countries in the EU and developing countries in Latin America.  In developed countries, the concept has evolved over the decades from simple studies of job satisfaction towards more comprehensive measures of job and employment quality, permitting detailed measurement and international comparisons of job quality in the EU member states and their incorporation into policymaking. In contrast, the ILO imposed the concept and definition of ‘Decent Work’ on developed and developing countries in 1999, and there has been little empirical or theoretical advance since then.  We propose three important differences between these two scenarios that have lead to these diverging paths: the lack of availability of internationally comparable data, the control over the research agenda by partisan organisations and the premature acceptance of the ILO’s flawed definition of decent work have all stunted progress in Latin America, whilst the easy availability of data, a more autonomous research community and an openness to the fluid evolution of the concept of job quality have permitted progress within the EU.  Without good measures of job quality in Latin American countries, simplistic notions that economic development would improve job quality have not been subject to rigorous empirical scrutiny.  This will remain the case until internationally comparable data on job quality in developing countries is forthcoming.


Keywords: decent work, indicators, quality of employment, job satisfaction