Johan Westerman is PhD Student in sociology at SOFI, registered at the Department of Sociology. June 4 he will defend his thesis "Motives matter: intrinsic motivation in work learning and labor market performance".

Opponent: Daniel Oesch (Lausanne university)

Participate in the seminar via Zoom by clicking on this link: (updated link)



This dissertation examines the importance of individual work motivation for two crucial dimensions of inequality: work learning and labor market performance. The first dimension relates to learning activities at work, and the second to wage attainment and knowledge-oriented task assignment. While motivation is a broad concept, the empirical analyses focus on task involvement and the motivation to learn. Job mobility is further used to indicate a motivational strategy aimed at gaining new labor market experiences. 

These kinds of motivation are related to individual variation in intrinsic motivation, representing: pure curiosity and a strive for competence in novel environments, a focus on personal development rather than on proving ability, satisfaction gained from feelings of competence and autonomy during task performance, and experience of complete absorption in activities of learning and mastery.  
The connection between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic labor market rewards (such as wage attainment) is theorized to follow from: (a) a higher level of performance in learning activities at work, (b) consequent assignment to more productive work tasks, and (c) a rise in material rewards (wages) linked to this assignment.

Variation in the extent to which intrinsic motivation can be elicited in individuals, and the extent to which intrinsic motivation is targeted toward performance related activities in the labor market, is thus expected to matter for patterns of inequality. Intrinsic motivation, as a productive factor shaping inequality, is expected to grow in importance in paralell with an increase in the labor market value of skills, and a decline in bureaucratic and closely monitored production organization. As a research agenda, the analysis of intrinsic motivation is thus crucial for understanding evolving patterns of conflict and inequality in contemporary societies.

Study I analyzes the relationship between task involvement and wage attainment, and shows that task involvement is moderately associated with higher wages in two datasets: the Swedish Level-of-Living Survey (LNU) and the European Social Survey (ESS). Study II analyzes the relationship between repeated job mobility (a ‘new experiences strategy’) and work learning. Two datasets are used: LNU and the Swedish part of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Results show that repeated job mobility is positively associated with several, but not all, kinds of learning activities. Study III analyzes the associations that motivation to learn shares with knowledge-oriented task assignment and wage attainment using PIAAC data for 17 European countries. Results show that the motivation to learn is strongly correlated with knowledge-oriented task assignment, and moderately correlated with wage attainment. These correlations are similar across distinct levels of numerical proficiency, and across labor market contexts.

Keywords: Work motivation; Job mobility; Labor market inequality; Wages; On-the-job training.