Social Indicators Research

, Volume 119, Issue 1, pp 421–441 | Cite as

Measuring Precarious Employment: A Proposal for Two Indicators of Precarious Employment Based on Set-Theory and Tested with Dutch Labor Market-Data

  • Martin Olsthoorn


Scholars claim that precarious employment is rising. The precariously employed earn low wages, have little job- and income security and occupy jobs that can generally be deemed low quality. These employees are at a disproportionally high risk of poverty and are at risk of detrimental psychological effects. Despite the salience of the issue, precarious employment remains an elusive concept and has proven difficult to measure directly. Instead, measurement tends to rely on non-integrated indicators and proxies, thus introducing significant issues concerning the validity of found results. This paper proposes two integrated indicators for specific aspects of precarious employment. Indicator 1 focuses on income insecurity and is constructed using wage, supplementary income and unemployment benefit entitlements. Indicator 2 focuses on job insecurity and is constructed using contract type and unemployment duration. Additionally, to check for the coexistence of job- and income insecurity at the individual level and give a more holistic picture of precarious employment, Indicators 1 and 2 are integrated. First, previous research on precarious employment and job insecurity is reviewed to bolster the indicators’ validity. Second, the indicators are constructed using an approach grounded in crisp-set theory and data from the Dutch “Organisatie Strategisch Arbeidsmartkonderzoek” labor supply panel. Finally, the indicators are tested by assessing precarious employment over time, by educational level, sector and immigrant status.


Precarious employment Poverty Job insecurity Set-theory Crisp sets Netherlands 


  1. Ahmad, A. (2008). Dead men working: Time and space in London’s (‘Illegal’) migrant economy. Work, Employment and Society, 22(2), 301–318.Google Scholar
  2. Autor, D., Katz, L., & Kearney, M. (2006). The polarization of the US labour market. The American Economic Review, 96(2), 189–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barbier, J. (2004). A comparative analysis of ‘employment precariousness’ in Europe. European Research Centre, Cross-National Research Papers, 7, 7–19.Google Scholar
  4. Benach, J., & Muntaner, C. (2007). Precarious employment and health: Developing a research agenda. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 61, 276–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Böckerman, P. (2004). Perception of job instability in Europe. Social Indicators Research, 67, 283–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark, A. (2005). Your money or your life: Changing job quality in OECD countries. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 43(3), 377–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clark, A., & Postel-Vinay, F. (2005). Job security and job protection. IZA discussion paper no. 1489. Bonn: Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit.Google Scholar
  8. Cranford, C., Vosko, L., & Zuckewich, N. (2003). Precarious employment in the Canadian labour market: A statistical portrait. Just Labour, 3, 6–22.Google Scholar
  9. Delsen, L. (2002). Exit polder model? Socioeconomic changes in the Netherlands. Westport: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  10. Dörre, K., Kraemer, K., & Speidel, F. (2006). The increasing precariousness of the employment society—driving force for a new right wing populism? In The 15th Conference of Europeanists. Google Scholar
  11. Duclos, J., & Mercader-Prats, M. (2005). Household needs and Poverty: With application to Spain and the UK. The Review of Income and Wealth, 45(1), 77–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Emmeneger, P., Häusermann, S., Palier, B., & Seeleib-Kaiser, M. (2009). The dualisation of European societies? Unpublished Background Paper. University of Oxford.Google Scholar
  13. Fassinger, R. (2008). Workplace diversity and public policy: Challenges and opportunities for psychology. American Psychologist, 33(4), 252–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Freedman, D. (2002). The ecological fallacy. USA: University of Carolina.Google Scholar
  15. Fuller, S., & Vosko, L. (2008). Temporary employment and social inequality in Canada: Exploring intersections of gender, race and immigration status. Social Indicators Research, 88, 31–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gerring, J. (2001). Social science methodology: A critical framework. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goldthorpe, J. (2000). On sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Greenhalgh, L., & Rosenblatt, Z. (1984). Job insecurity: Towards conceptual clarity. Academy of Management Review, 9(3), 438–448.Google Scholar
  19. Hanisch, K. (1999). Job loss and unemployment research from 1994–1998: A review and recommendations for research and intervention. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 55, 188–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Holzer, H., Lane, J., Rosenblum, D., & Andersson, F. (2011). Where are all the good jobs going? What national and local job quality dynamics mean for U.S. workers. New York: Russel Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  21. Kalleberg, A. (2008). The mismatched workers: When people don’t fit their jobs. Academy of Management Perspectives, 22(1), 24–40.Google Scholar
  22. Kalleberg, A. (2009). Precarious work, insecure workers: Employment relations in transition. American Sociological Review, 74(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kalleberg, A. (2011). Good jobs, bad jobs: The rise of polarized and precarious employment in the United States, 1970s to 2000s. New York: Russel Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  24. Kim, A., & Kurz, K. (2001). Precarious employment, education and gender: A comparison of Germany and the United Kingdom. Arbeitspapiere; working papers.Google Scholar
  25. Leschke, J., & Keune, M. (2008). Precarious employment in the public and private service sectors: Comparing the UK and Germany. In M. Keune, J. Leschke, & A. Watt (Eds.), Privatisation and liberalisation of public services in Europe: An analysis of economic and labour market impacts. Brussels: ETUI.Google Scholar
  26. Leschke, J., Watt, A., & Finn, M. (2008). Putting a number on job quality? Constructing a European job quality index. ETUI-REHS Working Paper, 2008.Google Scholar
  27. Loughlin, C., & Murray, M. (2013). Employment status congruence and job quality. Human Relations, 66, 529–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Munoz de Bustillo, R., Fernandez-Macias, E., Igancio-Anton, J., & Esteve, F. (2011). Measuring more than money: The social economics of job quality. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. OECD. (1997). Is job insecurity on the increase in OECD countries? In OECD, OECD Employment Outlook (pp. 129–160). Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  30. Pacelli, L., Divicienti, F., Maida, A., Morini, M., Poggi, A., & Vesan, P. (2008). Employment security and employability. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.Google Scholar
  31. Pennings, F., & Damsteegt, A. (2009). De Werkloosheidswet. Deventer: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  32. Piantadosi, S., Byar, D., & Green, S. (1988). The ecological fallacy. American Journal of Epidemiology, 127(5), 893–904.Google Scholar
  33. Porthé, V., Ahonen, E., Vázquez, M., Pope, C., Agudelo, A., Garcia, A., et al. (2010). Extending a model of precarious employment: A qualitative study of migrant workers in Spain. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 53, 417–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Quinlan, M., Mayhew, C., & Bohle, P. (2001). The global expansion of precarious employment, work disorganisation and occupational health: A review of recent research. International Journal of Health Services, 31(2), 335–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ragin, C. C. (2000). Fuzzy set social science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  36. Rodgers, G., & Rodgers, J. (1989). Precarious jobs in labour market regulation: The growth of atypical employment in Western Europe. Geneva: ILO.Google Scholar
  37. Rueda, D. (2005). Insider-outsider politics in industrialized democracies: The challenge for social democratic parties. American Political Science Review, 99(1), 61–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schnapper, D., & Villac, M. (1989). Rapport à l’emploi, Protection Sociale et Statuts Sociaux. Revue Francaise de Sociologie, 30(1), 3–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tompa, E., Scott-Marshall, H., Dolinschi, R., Trevithick, S., & Bhattacharayya, S. (2007). Precarious employment experiences and their health consequences: Towards a theoretical framework. Work, 28, 209–224.Google Scholar
  40. Vosko, L. (2002). Rethinking feminization: Gendered precariousness in the Canadian labour market and the crisis in social reproduction. Annual Robarts Lecture. Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies.Google Scholar
  41. Vosko, L. (2006). Precarious employment: Understanding labour market insecurity in Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Waite, L. (2009). A place and space for a critical geography of precarity? Geography Compass, 3(1), 412–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Webster (2011). Opgeroepen op December 13, 2011, van Webster’s online dictionary.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations