Stockholm university

Johan WestermanResearcher

About me

Johan Westerman is a researcher who obtained his PhD in sociology from the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI) in 2020. His dissertation, entitled ‘Motives Matter’, investigated the intrinsic motivation in work learning and labor market performance. His analytical approach is oriented towards a thorough understanding of (job) task involvement and within-career mobility processes. He currently studies the occupational structure and structural change in high-income countries, as well as the extent to which these factors shape labor market inequality in careers, wages and job attainment. 

Research projects


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Structural Change Shapes Career Mobility Opportunities: An Analysis of Cohorts, Gender and Parental Class

    2022. Dirk Witteveen, Johan Westerman. Work, Employment and Society


    Research suggests that structural change drives occupational mobility in high-income countries over time, but two partially competing theories explain how such change occurs. One suggests that younger cohorts replace older ones through higher education, and the second suggests that individuals adapt to structural change by switching from declining to new or growing occupations during their careers. A proposed occupational scheme aligns with the two dimensions of structural change - skill upgrading on the vertical axis of occupational differentiation, increasing demand for data comprehension (i.e. high skill) and primary tasks concerning either people or things on the horizontal axis. Applied to career trajectories in the Swedish labour market, sequence analyses of the scheme suggest stability in attainment of career mobility types over time between consecutive birth cohorts, and considerable evidence for within-career manoeuvring. Analyses address heterogeneity along parental class and gender.

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  • Post-educational motivation to learn cognitive skills in three European labour markets. A comparative analysis of the PIAAC

    2021. Johan Westerman. Journal of Education and Work 34 (4), 459-471


    This study advances the analysis of cognitive skill use at work by considering another crucial factor: the motivation-to-learn (MtL). Previous research has indicated that MtL forms cognitive skills in the school setting. However, the role of MtL in the work setting is much less understood. The present study analyses the association between MtL and cognitive skill use in three major European labour markets: Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, using the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Findings from a regression analysis of cognitive skill use on MtL and various control variables show that the independent contribution of MtL is about as important as the combined contribution of literacy/numeracy proficiency, although a decomposition analysis reveals further insights about how MtL, literacy/numeracy proficiency, and education intersect each other in the determination of cognitive skill use. The found association is remarkably stable across different samples and model specifications. Some heterogeneities are however revealed, such as a larger relative importance of MtL among the low-educated in the Netherlands. The findings are interpreted in light of contemporary theory on institutional regimes, concentrating on cross-country differences in on-the-job training prevalence.

    Read more about Post-educational motivation to learn cognitive skills in three European labour markets. A comparative analysis of the PIAAC
  • Should I learn or should I turn? Implications of job mobility for subsequent learning at work

    2021. Johan Westerman. European Sociological Review 37 (6), 935-951


    Work learning is the skills and the knowledge that is generated from work practices and in exchange of information at work. While there are good reasons to fear that frequent job changers do not learn thoroughly at work, it is also conceivable that the experience of many types of jobs instead yields greater learning. Despite this issue’s significance for on-going discussions in research and policy, thorough analyses of it are surprisingly sparse. In this study, we test whether job mobility is positively or negatively associated with subsequent work learning using data from two Swedish representative datasets (LNU and PIAAC). In order to substantiate both claims, we utilize a wide array of research on human capital, job matching, labor market segmentation and learning motivation. We analyze a broad set of indicators of work learning and show that job mobility in general is associated with greater total subsequent learning than is job stability. 

    Read more about Should I learn or should I turn? Implications of job mobility for subsequent learning at work
  • The impact of structural skill change on marginalgroup employment: Theoretical considerations andempirical evidence for Europe, 1998-2016

    2021. Michael Tåhlin, Johan Westerman.


    In many advanced industrial countries, in Europe and beyond, marginal groups in the labor market are facing increasing difficulties in finding employment. Structural skill upgrading might hurt employment prospects of marginal workers whose relative lack of experience makes them vulnerable in job competition with more established workers. Empirical results, based on data from the EU Labour Force Surveys for 20 countries over the period 1998 to 2016, show that both matched skill upgrading and overeducation have a clear negative impact on the employment chances of youth and immigrants, while older workers and mothers appear less affected by structural skill change.

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  • Motives matter: Intrinsic motivation in work learning and labor market performance

    2020. Johan Westerman.

    Thesis (Doc)

    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.

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  • Youth employment decline and the structural change of skill

    2020. Michael Tåhlin, Johan Westerman. European Societies 22 (1), 47-76


    Labor market prospects for youth have deteriorated significantly in many OECD countries over recent decades. While the extent and consequences of falling youth employment are commonly studied, attempts at understanding its causes have been much more limited. The present paper attempts to fill this explanatory gap. We suggest that the secular decline in youth employment can be accounted for by the structural change of skill. This process of structural change has two interrelated components: (a) one part where skill supply (individual educational attainment) and skill demand (educational requirements of jobs) grow together in what can be called matched upgrading and (b) another part where excess skill supply leads to mismatch and crowding-out. These components of skill growth have commonly been treated separately and incompletely in the literature. We build on both of them in developing our account of why the labor market for youth has weakened. Using data on 10 European countries from the EU Labor Force Surveys over the period 1998 to 2015, we estimate associations between the structural change of skill and youth employment decline. The main conclusion is that both matched skill upgrading and overeducation are strongly and negatively linked to young people’s employment chances.

    Read more about Youth employment decline and the structural change of skill
  • Unequal involvement, unequal attainment? A theoretical reassessment and empirical analysis of the value of motivation in the labor market

    2018. Johan Westerman. Social Science Research 76, 169-185


    Inequality has often been explained by stable individual traits or by the structural features of labor markets. This study argues that we also should consider task involvement when we account for labor market inequality. Three mechanisms derived from experimental research link task involvement to performance: individuals involved in tasks are more focused on the work process, are more dedicated to mastery and problem-solving, and have stronger product quality perseverance. Despite the significance of task involvement as a motivation, its potential implication for labor market inequality is so far rather unacknowledged. We aim to develop its theoretical implications in the labor market context and test the expectation that task involvement is related to wage attainment by analyzing representative data for Sweden (LNU) and Europe (ESS). We theoretically locate our account within relational sociology, emphasizing that wage inequality is determined by interactions between worker attributes and the features of work organizations.

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  • Individuals developing schizophrenia are hidden among adolescent substance misusers

    2016. S. Hodgins, P. Larm, Johan Westerman. Psychological Medicine 46 (14), 3041-3050


    Background Strategies are needed to identify youth developing schizophrenia. The present study aimed to determine whether adolescents treated for substance misuse were at elevated risk to develop schizophrenia, whether this risk has changed since the late 1960s, and whether substance misuse in adolescence predicted poorer outcomes through adulthood. Method In a Swedish city, since the mid-1960s there has been only one clinic for adolescent substance misuse. Three samples from this clinic were studied: 1992 individuals treated from 1968 to 1971 followed to age 50 years; 1576 treated from 1980 to 1984 followed to age 35 years; and 180 treated in 2004 followed to age 22 years. Each clinical sample was matched on age, sex and place of birth to an equal, or larger, number of randomly selected individuals from the general population. Schizophrenia, substance use disorders, physical disorders related to substance misuse, criminal convictions, poverty and death were identified using national registers. Results Individuals treated for substance misuse in adolescence were at increased risk to subsequently develop schizophrenia: in males the increase was approximately four-fold and in females between five- and seven-fold. There was no difference in risk for those treated in 1968-1971 and from 1980 to 1984 when cannabis use increased from 37.6% to 49.8% of the clinical samples. Among males who developed schizophrenia, treatment for substance misuse was associated with increased risk of substance use disorders and criminal convictions through adulthood. Conclusions Treatment programmes for adolescents misusing substances include a disproportionate number developing schizophrenia. Early detection and treatment have the potential to improve long-term outcomes.

    Read more about Individuals developing schizophrenia are hidden among adolescent substance misusers

Show all publications by Johan Westerman at Stockholm University