Sehnbruch, Kirsten (2017). 'Measuring the Quality of Employment from the Perspective of the Capability Approach' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Panel Description and Objective

In the academic literature, the idea that GDP growth and human development are not necessarily correlated has become an accepted fact thanks to the efforts of the UNDP, its Human Development Reports, the Human Development Index and the Multidimensional Poverty Index (Sehnbruch et al., 2015). However, this level of analysis, research and understanding has not been paralleled by the literature on labour markets in developing countries even though we know that employment conditions are the central mechanism that transmits economic growth to individual levels of well-being and capabilities (Ramos et al. 2015). The fact that GDP growth does not necessarily generate better employment conditions is therefore not widely appreciated in the development literature. Especially in a region that is resource rich, such as Latin America, growth is often a result of high prices for commodities, which may contribute little to improving employment conditions. The implicit assumption that economic growth will solve labour market problems, such as high unemployment, informal or precarious employment, has meant that Latin American governments during recent decades have prioritized generating the best possible conditions for macroeconomic growth, rather than focusing more explicitly on labour policy per se as a pivotal component of development policy due to the capabilites that employment generates.

The ILO is one of the main institutions that has systematically highlighted the importance of the labour market and of employment conditions in the development process. But although its theoretical concept of "decent work" was based on the capability approach (Paper 1 in this panel), it has not translated this theoretical debate into internationally comparable data and indicators (Sehnbruch et al., 2015). Similarly, the human development approach has also neglected the subject of the quality of employment, with the exception of the 2015 Human Development Report, which discusses the importance of work from the perspective of the human development approach, but contributes little to the discussion of how to conceptualise and measure job quality, which is at least as important as the quantity of jobs (OECD, 2014). Even OPHI, which identified employment as a missing dimension within the capability approach (OPHI, 2007) has made little progress on the question of which indicators should be used and how to measure this dimension.

This panel will attempt to fill this gap in the capability approach literature by examining how the quality of employment can be conceptualised and measured in developing countries from the perspective of the capability approach. The specific objective of this panel is to present one theoretical paper and three empirical papers that will:(1) explore the relationship between the capability approach and the quality of employment from a theoretical perspective, and (2) explore the use of the Alkire-Foster method for measuring the quality of employment, and (3) compare the Alkire-Foster method with other methodologies used in the literature.


Alkire, S. and Foster J. 2011. Counting and Multidimensional Poverty Measurement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7-8), 476-487

Burchell, B, Sehnbruch, K, Piasna, A and Agloni, N 2014. The quality of employment in the academic literature:definitions,methodology and ongoing debates. Cambridge Journal of Economics,38(2),459-477.

ILO. 1999. Decent Work. Report of the Director General. International Labour Conference, 87th. Geneva

Lugo, A. 2007. Employment A proposal for internationally comparable indicators. OPHI WORKING PAPER NO. 02

OECD, 2014. ―Employment Outlook. Paris: OECD

Ramos, J., Sehnbruch, S. and Weller, J. 2015. Quality of employment in Latin America: Theory and evidence. International Labour Review, 154(2), 179-194.

Sehnbruch, K., Burchell, B., Piasna, A. and Agloni, N. 2015. Human Development and Decent Work: Why some Concepts succeed and others fail. Development and Change, 46 (2), 197-224.

Sen, A. 2000. "Work and Rights" International Labour Review, Vol. 139 (2)

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