Are intermediate jobs disappearing? The myth of labour polarisation in Europe

Daniel Oesch, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Giorgio Piccitto, Bocconi University, Milan, Italy

There is no evidence of labour polarisation in Europe. Unlike what has occurred in the United States, in Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and Sweden, there has been an increase in jobs considered “good” – in other words, those with salaries above average, high education demands and social prestige – and “bad” jobs have declined.
Key points
  • 1
       In the European countries considered, employment of greater quality grew by 10 percentage points from the start of the 1990s, when it represented 20% of employment, until 2015, when it reached 30%.
  • 2
       Occupational change in Spain has been more spectacular. In barely 25 years, employment of greater quality has almost doubled, growing by 15 percentage points when salaries, education level and prestige are taken into account.
  • 3
       The research analyses how employment has changed in Germany, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, which exemplify the current variety and group together half of the continent’s population.
Good occupations are growing and bad ones are declining
Good occupations are growing and bad ones are declining

In barely 25 years, in Spain, employment in quality occupations has doubled, growing by 15 percentage points when salaries, education level or prestige are taken into account.

However, even though the pattern is repeated (good occupations grow more and poor ones decline), the change is less pronounced when job satisfaction is analysed. This is understandable if we take into account the fact that Spain is one of the European countries with the lowest levels of job satisfaction, even among workers with well-paid or high-prestige occupations.

Employment quality goes beyond salary

A “good job” is often associated with a “well-paid” job. However, employment quality is a multidimensional phenomenon that it is hard to reduce exclusively to salaries. For that reason, here a broader focus is adopted in which four employment quality indicators are incorporated:

  1. Median income for the occupation.

  2. Education level.

  3. Occupational prestige.

  4. Worker job satisfaction.



Daniel Oesch , University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Giorgio Piccitto , Bocconi University, Milan, Italy


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