Skip to main content

Job satisfaction and self-employment: autonomy or personality?

Abstract

Most studies in the economics discourse argue that the impact of self-employment on job satisfaction is mediated by greater procedural freedom and autonomy. Values and personality traits are considered less likely to explain the utility difference between self-employed and salaried workers. Psychology scholars suggest that entrepreneurial satisfaction also depends, at least in part, on specific values and personality traits. Utilising a large dataset derived from the 2006 European Social Survey, this study performs a complementary analysis by taking personality traits, personal values and indicators for workers’ autonomy explicitly into account. The empirical findings add further strength to economists’ argument that, net of values and personality traits, autonomy and independence are the mechanisms by which self-employment leads to higher levels of job satisfaction. These results hold true for both male and female sub-samples even when a multitude of socio-demographic characteristics, personal values and personality traits are controlled for.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    In the spirit of Blanchflower and Oswald’s observation that “the simplest kind of entrepreneurship is self-employment” (Blanchflower and Oswald 1998, p. 27), the terms ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘self-employed’ are used interchangeably throughout the analysis.

  2. 2.

    Data from the 2006 European Social Survey were released in April 2008. For a description of the sampling design, see Lynn et al. (2004). For further information, including questionnaire design details see www.europeansocialsurvey.org.

  3. 3.

    In Schumpeter’s view, the entrepreneur does not passively operate. Instead, he creates an environment different from the one hitherto encountered by seeing through investments of physical, emotional and intellectual assets. In Schumpeter’s own words: “… there is the joy of creating, of getting things done, or simply of exercising one’s energy and ingenuity” (Schumpeter 1934, p. 93).

  4. 4.

    It is interesting to note that these characteristics are broadly consistent with the concept of ‘core self-evaluations’, which is manifested in self-esteem, locus of control, generalised self-efficacy and low levels of neuroticism. These personality traits have been shown to serve as significant predictors of job satisfaction (Judge et al. 1998).

  5. 5.

    Defined as respondents being in 30 h or more of paid employment per week for their main job.

  6. 6.

    The employment status variable adopts the employment classifications specified in the ESS, without making any additional adjustments to the self-employment category. On this basis and across the chosen countries, an average of 8.1% of the workforce sampled was self-employed. This is broadly in line with the observation by Benz and Frey (2008a, p. 362) who note that “around 10% of all individuals gainfully employed in Western countries are self-employed”.

  7. 7.

    For a notable exception, see the analysis on values and personality characteristics of the self-employed by Beugelsdijk and Noorderhaven (2005).

References

  1. Aghion, P., & Tirole, J. (1997). Formal and real authority in organizations. Journal of Political Economy, 105, 1–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Benz, M., & Frey, B. S. (2004). Being independent raises happiness at work. Swedish Economic Policy Review, 11, 95–134.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Benz, M., & Frey, B. S. (2008a). Being independent is a great thing: Subjective evaluations of self-employment and hierarchy. Economica, 75, 362–383.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Benz, M., & Frey, B. S. (2008b). The value of doing what you like: Evidence from the self-employed in 23 countries. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 68, 445–455.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Berings, D., De Fruyt, F., & Bouwen, R. (2004). Work values and personality traits as predictors of enterprising and social vocational interests. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 349–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Beugelsdijk, S., & Noorderhaven, (2005). Personality characteristics of self-employed: An empirical study. Small Business Economics, 24, 159–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (1998). What makes an entrepreneur? Journal of Labor Economics, 16(1), 26–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Blau, P. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bradley, D. E., & Roberts, J. A. (2004). Self-employment and job satisfaction: Investigating the role of self-efficacy, depression, and seniority. Journal of Small Business Management, 42(1), 37–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Brockhaus, R. H. (1980). Risk taking propensity of entrepreneurs. Academy of Management Journal, 23(3), 509–520.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Sanfey, P. (1998). Job satisfaction, wage changes, and quits. Research in Labor Economics, 17, 95–121.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Clark, A. E., Oswald, A., & Warr, P. (1996). Is job satisfaction U-shaped in age? Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 69, 57–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Collins, C. J., Hanges, P. J., & Locke, E. A. (2004). The relationship of achievement motivation to entrepreneurial behaviour: A meta-analysis. Human Performance, 17(1), 95–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cooper, A. C., & Artz, K. W. (1995). Determinants of satisfaction for entrepreneurs. Journal of Business Venturing, 10, 439–457.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cooper, A. C., Woo, C., & Dunkelberg, W. (1988). Entrepreneurs’ perceived chances for success. Journal of Business Venturing, 3(2), 97–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Cotton, J., & Tuttle, J. (1986). Employee turnover: A meta-analysis and review with implications for research. Academy of Management Review, 39, 949–969.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Cowling, M., & Taylor, M. (2001). Entrepreneurial women and men: Two different species? Small Business Economics, 16, 167–175.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Danziger, N., & Valency, R. (2006). Career anchors: Distribution and impact on job satisfaction, the Israeli case. Career Development International, 11(4), 293–303.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. DeCarlo, J. F., & Lyons, P. R. (1979). A comparison of selected personal characteristics of minority and non-minority female entrepreneurs. Journal of Small Business Management, 17(1), 22–29.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Eden, D. (1975). Organizational membership versus self-employment: Another blow to the American dream. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 13(1), 79–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Gazioglu, S., & Tansel, A. (2006). Job satisfaction in Britain: Individual and job related factors. Applied Economics, 38, 1163–1171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Georgellis, Y., & Lange, T. (2007). Participation in continuous, on-the-job training and the impact on job satisfaction: Longitudinal evidence from the German labour market. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(6), 969–985.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hornaday, J., & Bunker, C. (1970). The nature of the entrepreneur. Personnel Psychology, 23(1), 47–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hull, D. L., Bosley, J. J., & Udell, G. G. (1980). Renewing the hunt for the heffalump: Identifying potential entrepreneurs by personality characteristics. Journal of Small Business Management, 18(1), 11–18.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hundley, G. (2001). Why and when are the self-employed more satisfied with their work? Industrial Relations, 40(2), 293–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Jones, M. K., Latreille, P. L., & Sloane, P. J. (2006). Disability, gender and the British labour market. Oxford Economic Papers, 58, 407–449.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Judge, T. A., Locke, E. A., Durham, C. C., & Kluger, A. N. (1998). Dispositional effects on job and life satisfaction: The role of core evaluations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(1), 17–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Judge, T. A., Thoresen, C., Bono, J., & Patton, G. (2001). The job satisfaction–job performance relationship: A qualitative and quantitative review. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 376–407.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Krueger, N., Reilly, M. D., & Carsrud, A. L. (2000). Competing models of entrepreneurial intention. Journal of Business Venturing, 15(5–6), 411–432.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Lange, T. (2008). Communist legacies, gender and the impact on job satisfaction in Central and Eastern Europe. European Journal of Industrial Relations, 14(3), 327–346.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Lynn, P., Hader, S., Gable, S., & Laaksonen, S. (2004). Methods for achieving equivalence of samples in cross-national surveys: The European Social Survey Experience. ISER working paper 2004–09, University of Essex, Colchester.

  32. McClelland, D. C. (1965). N Achievement and Entrepreneurship: A longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1(4), 389–392.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. McClelland, D. C. (1987). Characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. Journal of Creative Behavior, 21(3), 219–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Mescon, T., & Montanari, J. (1981). The personalities of independent and franchise entrepreneurs: An empirical analysis of concepts. Journal of Enterprise Management, 3(2), 149–159.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Meyer, H. H., Walker, N. B., & Litwin, G. H. (1961). Motive patterns and risk preferences associated with entrepreneurship. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 570–574.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Mueller, S. L., & Thomas, A. S. (2000). Culture and entrepreneurial potential: A nine country study of locus of control and innovativeness. Journal of Business Venturing, 16, 51–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Naughton, T. J. (1987). Quality of working life and the self-employed manager. American Journal of Small Business, 12(2), 33–41.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Rose, M. (2003). Good deal, bad deal? Job satisfaction in occupations. Work, Employment & Society, 17(3), 503–530.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Rose, M. (2005). Job satisfaction in Britain: Coping with complexity. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 43(3), 455–467.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Saari, L., & Judge, T. (2004). Employee attitudes and job satisfaction. Human Resource Management, 43(4), 395–407.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Saravathy, D. K., Simon, H. A., & Lave, L. (1998). Perceiving and managing business risks: Differences between entrepreneurs and bankers. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 33(2), 207–225.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Schumpeter, J. A. (1934). The theory of economic development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Smallbone, D., & Welter, F. (2001). The distinctiveness of entrepreneurship in transition economies. Small Business Economics, 16, 249–262.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Stewart, W. H., & Roth, P. L. (2001). Risk propensity differences between entrepreneurs and managers: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 145–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Super, D. E. (1953). A theory of vocational development. American Psychologist, 8, 185–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Thomas, L. T., & Gangster, D. C. (1995). Impact of family-supportive work variables on work-family conflict and strain: A control perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 80, 6–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Van Gelderen, M., & Jansen, P. (2006). Autonomy as a start-up motive. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 13(1), 23–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Wanous, J., Reichers, A., & Hudy, M. (1997). Overall job satisfaction: How good are single-item measures? Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 247–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Wheaton, B. (1990). Life transitions, role histories, and mental health. American Sociological Review, 55(2), 209–223.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Williamson, O. E. (1975). Markets and hierarchies: Analysis and antitrust implications. New York: Free.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Zabojnik, J. (2002). Centralized and decentralized decision making in organizations. Labor Economics, 20(1), 1–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my gratitude to two anonymous reviewers whose comments and suggestions helped improve an earlier draft of this paper in many important ways. I am also indebted to Andrew Clark, Yannis Georgellis, Scott Fargher and Gail Pacheco for their instructive comments on earlier drafts. The usual disclaimer applies.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas Lange.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lange, T. Job satisfaction and self-employment: autonomy or personality?. Small Bus Econ 38, 165–177 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11187-009-9249-8

Download citation

Keywords

  • Job satisfaction
  • Self-employment
  • Personality traits
  • Autonomy
  • European social survey

JEL Classifications

  • J28
  • L26