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Proportion of people in low-quality work by region, ethnicity, age, and sex

23 June 2022

About 3 mins to read

Key points

  • Nearly a quarter (24.1%) of employees aged 16–19 experienced multiple negative aspects of job quality compared to 12.9% of employees aged 35–64.
  • Black/African/Caribbean and mixed-ethnicity groups were the most likely to experience multiple negative aspects of job quality (20.6% and 19.9% respectively).
  • Wales was the region with the highest proportion of jobs with multiple negative aspects of quality (17.2%), and London was the lowest (12%).
  • 16% of women experienced multiple negative job aspects in 2018/19 compared to 13.2% of men.

This chart shows the proportion of employees reporting multiple negative aspects of job quality in each region of the UK in 2018/19. Each individual’s experiences at work are assessed according to five aspects of job quality: job satisfaction, job wellbeing, job autonomy, job security and pay. 

Low-quality work can be just as bad for health as unemployment. This can be due to workplace hazards and conditions, but also the stress and anxiety created by a lack of control or autonomy, job insecurity or insufficient income due to low pay. The proportion of employees who report multiple negative aspects of job quality varies according to their demographic characteristics and where they live. 


The widest variation is between different age groups, from 24.1% of 16–19 year olds to 11.7% of 35–44-year-olds. Generally, the proportion of employees with multiple negative job aspects decreases up until the age of 35–44, and then rises again with age.


Over a fifth of Black/African/Caribbean employees (20.6%) reported multiple negative aspects of job quality compared to the lowest rate of 11.4% in the survey category 'Other Asian background’. 


There are regional differences across the UK, with Wales highest (17.2%) and London lowest (12%). London, the East, South East and South West tend to have the lowest proportion of employees experiencing multiple negative job aspects. 


Women (16%) are more likely than men (13.2%) to experience multiple negative job aspects.

Differences in the prevalence of low-quality work across the UK and across different demographic characteristics highlight the need for an active strategy to improve the quality of work, particularly for those areas and groups with the worst outcomes.

This indicator adapts and builds on measures used by Chandola and Zhang and is based on available data from the University of Essex Understanding Society survey.

Aspects of low-quality work are measured as follows:

  • low job satisfaction – employees who report feeling somewhat, mostly or completely dissatisfied with their job 
  • low job autonomy – across five dimensions of job autonomy, an average score indicating little to no autonomy
  • low job wellbeing – across six measures of emotional perceptions of jobs (whether it inspires feelings of tension, unease, worry, depression, gloom or misery), an average score indicating these feelings most or all the time
  • low job security – perception that job loss is either likely or very likely in the next 12 months 
  • low pay – earnings are below two-thirds of UK hourly median pay. The questions are asked of employees only aged 18–55 (self-employed people are excluded) and are specific to each job they hold.

Ethnicity groups are derived from the original survey categories as follows:

  • 'Black/African/Caribbean' includes 'Caribbean', 'African' and `any other black background`.
  • 'Mixed' includes 'white and black Caribbean', 'white and black African', 'white and Asian', and 'any other mixed background'.
  • 'White' includes 'British/English/Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish', 'Irish', and 'any other white background'.
  • 'Other Asian background' includes 'Chinese', and 'any other Asian background'.
  • 'Other' includes 'gypsy or Irish traveller', 'Arab' and `any other ethnic group'.

Source: University of Essex, Understanding Society, The UK Household Longitudinal Study, 2022.

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