Job Satisfaction, Education, and the Hedonic Treadmill
By Bryan Caplan
I won’t deny that there’s a lot of interesting material in “Priceless: The Nonpecuniary Benefits of Schooling” (Oreopoulos and Salvanes 2011, Journal of Economics Perspectives). The theme, of course, is that the benefits of schooling go far beyond mere extra income. I was struck, though, by the tiny effect of education on job satisfaction. Take a look at the fraction of people who are fairly, very, or completely satisfied with their jobs as a function of education:
[The black bar shows the raw result; the white bar holds income constant.]
Dropouts are just 7 percentage-points less satisfied than college grads? Hmm.
But what happens if you treat the GSS’s original 1-7 scale (1=”complete satisfied”, 7=”completely dissatisfied”) as a continuous variable? I expected to see a bigger effect of education, but I was wrong. The correlation isn’t just statistically insignificant; it reverses sign, with every year of education predicting a score .006 higher (=less satisfied). Controlling for log income, education actually predicts noticeably lower job satisfaction: