Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Distribution of Job Satisfaction among Young European Graduates: Does the Choice of Study Field Matter?

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Distribution of Job Satisfaction among Young European Graduates: Does the Choice of Study Field Matter?

Article excerpt

Investment in education appears to be related to people's success in making many decisions concerning their working life. Higher education, in particular, promotes more efficient decision-making processes related to the labor market through the acquisition of information that has a positive impact on occupational choices (Arrow, 1997). As a consequence, the labor market situation of higher education graduates (HEGs) is better, in general, than that of nongraduates. However, the distribution of job opportunities among HEGs is not homogeneous across fields of study. The degree field is clearly a relevant part of the credentials that graduates bring into the labor market and, consequently, it operates as a screening device when allocating jobs to HEGs. Employers prefer to hire graduates from specific fields with specific requirements of competence to cover vacancies. In fact, graduation from specific fields is a prerequisite, often imposed by the law, to hold and work in certain occupations: a degree in medical sciences is essential to practice as a physician, graduation from a law school is required in order to become an attorney, and so on. The main consequence is that the labor market for HEGs is to some extent segmented by the field of graduation. This field-related segmentation is confirmed by indicators such as labor force participation rates, unemployment rates, and the proportions of temporary labor contracts, which vary widely among graduates from different field study. In addition, there are substantial differences both in earnings and in the incidence of skill/job mismatches corresponding to graduates from different fields (Garcia-Aracil, Mora, & Vila, in press). Thus, the field of graduation is likely to influence the distribution of education-related benefits among HEGs through its impact on the distribution of job opportunities. Additionally, the interest leading to, and the specialization derived from, studying in a given field may influence the relative importance individuals attach to diverse labor market outcomes, resulting in net field-related differences in job satisfaction beyond its effects through the distribution of job opportunities. Since job satisfaction indicates how people value their jobs according to their own personal preferences and values, which are, to some extent, developed during their educational experience, the field of study may significantly influence graduates' levels of job satisfaction after the other observable individual-specific and job-specific characteristics are controlled for.

The choice of a field of study, nonetheless, is a personal decision of students that combines individual tastes, inclinations, preferences, and prospects related to the working life with a number of financial and academic constraints. Therefore, the analysis of the effects of degree field on job satisfaction should also address the unobserved heterogeneity among graduates from different fields. The process of choosing a field of study needs to be analyzed before its endogenous influence on graduates' job satisfaction is assessed.

Within this conceptual framework, we aim to clarify two main research questions:

1. What are the elements determining the choice of a given field of study?

2. Whether and how does field of study influence the distribution of job satisfaction among HEGs after controlling for individual heterogeneity?

We used data from CHEERS (Careers after Higher Education--A European Research Survey), a major representative survey comparing the situation of young European graduates from higher education institutions (Schomburg & Teichler, 2006). The CHEERS data set contains information about some 36,000 HEGs, who were interviewed 4 years after graduation.

This article is organized as follows. The next section provides summaries of literature both on the elements influencing the choice of degree field and on the determinants of job satisfaction. …

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