I am professor of sociology, and my research interests are primarily labour market and welfare sociology. I have mainly been engaged with comparative sociology. Within this broad field of research, I have for example analysed differences in sickness absence between countries and how these differences can be explained; how different welfare systems (e.g. unemployment insurance) affect health and differences in health between different social groups; and how the welfare state affects people's values and attitudes. I am also interested in social policy in Eastern Europe and in low- and middle-income countries.
Currently, I am primarily involved in a project, funded by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond) where I analyse whether different exit paths from working life (e.g. early retirement) affects health after retirement, and especially for individuals with demanding working conditions at the end of their working life.
I am responsible for the course 'Work organization and work environment' at AKPA 2.
I also teach other courses, such as 'Swedish labour market in comparative perspectives' and 'Individuals, organizations and labour market: sociological perspectives on occupations and workplaces’.
A selection from Stockholm University publication database
Employee collective voice and short-term sickness absence in Europe
2017. Ola Sjöberg. European journal of industrial relations 23 (2), 151-168Article
This article analyses the relationship between employee collective voice, measured by union density and institutionalized forms of employee representation at enterprise level, and short-term sickness absence rates in 24 European countries over the period 1996-2010. It relies on individual-level data on sickness absence from the European Labour Force Survey combined with country-level data on employee collective voice. There is a small but significant and non-trivial, negative relationship between employee collective voice and short-term sickness absence. Regression analysis suggests that if union density had remained at the 1996 level, short-term sickness absence would have been, on average, 2.5hours lower per year than in 2010.
Positive welfare state dynamics? Sickness benefits and sickness absence in Europe 1997-2011
2017. Ola Sjöberg. Social Science and Medicine 177, 158-168Article
Sickness absence is associated with great costs for individuals, companies and society at large. Influenced by neo-classical economic theory, policy advice has emphasized the role of sickness benefit programs for reducing sickness absence rates: too generous benefits without proper control will increase the number of recipients and prolong absence spells as well as possibly cause negative dynamic effects in the long term. This study provides an alternative interpretation of the relationship between sickness benefits and sickness absence. By combining an epidemiological approach to sickness absence and a resource-based approach to welfare, we argue that sickness benefits might be viewed as a collective resource that, by providing economic support during times of ill-health, might have positive health effects. Statistical analysis of short-term sickness absence using innovative methodological approaches and combined micro- and macro-level data for 21 EU countries over the period of 1992-2011 indicates that the long run effects of relatively generous sickness benefits is rather to reduce sickness absence. This result also has implications for sickness benefit reform: whereas benefit cuts to some extent may reduce absence in the short run, in the longer run such reforms may actually increase sickness absence rates.
Welfare states and health inequalities
2015. Olle Lundberg (et al.). Canadian public policy 41 (Suppl. 2), S26-S33Article
While much research points to the importance of a range of welfare state policies to reduce inequalities in health, the growing literature in this field is full of mixed and contradictory results. In this paper, we provide a brief discussion about the different conceptual and methodological approaches used in comparative research on the relationship between welfare policies and health. Against a theoretical discussion of possible linkages among one central welfare policy, unemployment benefit schemes, and health, we also provide examples of findings on how two central dimensions of such schemes—coverage and replacement rates—are linked to health and health inequalities across Europe. These examples indicate not only that welfare state programs can contribute to smaller health inequalities but also that their effectiveness in this respect depends on their institutional set-up.
2014. Ingrid Esser, Ola Sjöberg. Ekonomisk sociologi - en introduktion, 150-170Chapter
Decomposing the effect of social policies on population health and inequalities
2014. Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson, Ola Sjöberg. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 42 (7), 635-642Article
Aim: The purpose of this study is to discuss and empirically contrast different conceptualizations and operationalizations of social policies in analysing health and educational differences in health cross-nationally. Methods: Country-level institutional and expenditure data on unemployment benefit schemes and individual-level data from the EU-SILC for 23 countries were used to analyse the association between unemployment benefits and self-assessed health for individuals with different educational attainment. Results: The analyses indicate that higher coverage rate (i.e. the proportion of the relevant population eligible for benefits) is associated with better self-related health among both low- and high-educated individuals, but is not linked to smaller educational differences in health. In contrast, replacement rate (i.e. the amount of benefits received) in isolation is not related to self-assessed health. However, in countries where coverage rates are high, higher replacement rates are associated with better health among both low- and high-educated individuals and smaller educational differences in health. Conclusions: Decomposing unemployment benefit programmes into two main dimensions – the proportion in the labour force covered by such programmes and the replacement rate received in case of unemployment – may present further insights into institutional mechanisms linking macro-level social policies to individual-level health outcomes.
Old-age pensions and population health
2014. Ola Sjöberg. Global Public Health 9 (3), 271-285Article
Social security schemes can reduce poverty risk and increase resources available for individuals and families, and these schemes may therefore have an important role to play in population health in both high- and middle-income countries. This article analyses the linkage between effective coverage of old-age pension schemes and life expectancy in a sample of 93 high- and middle-income countries at the end of the twenty-first century. The analyses support the notion that social security schemes, and especially programmes with a universal approach, may have positive effects on population health, even after taking into account the effect of levels of economic development, income inequality and essential characteristics of health care systems. This article also demonstrates that there is no evident relationship between levels of economic development and social security legislation: historically, late industrialisers were often first in introducing major social security schemes, and today there is no clear cross-national relationship between levels of economic development and the proportion of the population covered by old-age pension schemes.
The role of income and social protection for inequalities in health, evidence and policy implications.
2014. Olle Lundberg (et al.).Report
Unemployment insurance and deteriorating self-rated health in 23 European countries
2014. Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson, Ola Sjöberg. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 68 (7), 657-662Article
The global financial crisis of 2008 is likely to have repercussions on public health in Europe, not least through escalating mass unemployment, fiscal austerity measures and inadequate social protection systems. The purpose of this study is to analyse the role of unemployment insurance for deteriorating self-rated health in the working age population at the onset of the fiscal crisis in Europe.
Multilevel logistic conditional change models linking institutional-level data on coverage and income replacement in unemployment insurance to individuallevel panel data on self-rated health in 23 European countries at two repeated occasions, 2006 and 2009.
Unemployment insurance significantly reduces transitions into self-rated ill-health and, particularly, programme coverage is important in this respect. Unemployment insurance is also of relevance for the socioeconomic gradients of health at individual level, where programme coverage significantly reduces health risks attached to educational attainment.
Unemployment insurance mitigated adverse health effects both at individual and country-level during the financial crisis. Due to the centrality of programme coverage, reforms to unemployment insurance should focus on extending the number of insured people in the labour force.
The effect of social protection and income maintenance policies on health and health inequalities
2013. Olle Lundberg (et al.). European Journal of Public Health 23 (Suppl. 1)Article
As a starting point we review the existing evidence on welfare states, health and health inequalities, from 2005 onwards. Three different approaches emerge in these previous studies – the welfare regime approach, the welfare institutions approach and the social spending approach. While no clear picture emerges for the welfare regime approach, summarising findings regarding the institutional and expenditure approach suggest that a higher degree of generosity and social spending benefits public health. These are therefore approaches we follow to arrive at a better understanding of what type of policies are linked to smaller inequalities in health across the life-course.
A starting point in the analyses is the relation between income, poverty and mortality. The cross-national variation in poverty rates, both absolute (poverty threshold) and relative (60 per cent of median income) measure, and mortality rates in European 26 countries will be considered.
The second step in the analysis focuses on the relationship between social rights and subjective health in Europe, with a focus on national variations and changes in social rights to levels and changes in subjective health outcomes across several countries. The data holds information regarding social rights and social expenditure, including individual data from EU-SILC.
Preliminary results indicate that it is the totality of social protection that is important rather than individual policies. A sub-study regarding social rights and health among youth highlight also the importance of active and passive labour market policy in the 16 included countries.
In sum our diverse approach to analysing welfare state efforts and their links to health inequalities suggest that there is a clear relationship between more ambitious policies and smaller inequalities in health. These results are discussed in relation to previous findings.
Sveriges socialförsäkringar i jämförande perspektiv
2012. Tommy Ferrarini (et al.).Report
The explanation of a paradox?
2012. Frank Pega (et al.). Social Science and Medicine 75 (4), 770-773Article
2011. Ola Sjöberg. Regulating the Risk of Unemployment., 208-231Chapter
Ambivalent Attitudes, Contradictory Institutions
2010. Ola Sjöberg. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 51 (1-2), 33-57Article
The purpose of this article is to analyze the extent and determinants of ambivalent — that is, seemingly inconsistent and contradictory — attitudes with regard to gender roles and female participation in the labor force from a comparative point of view. Drawing upon the work of Robert Merton and Elinor Barber, it is argued that attitudinal ambivalence may arise as a consequence of a disjunction between people’s aspirations and the structural possibility of realizing them. One such disjunction with possible importance for ambivalence with regard to gender role attitudes is between, on the one hand, the massive increase in women’s participation in higher education, which has increased women’s opportunities as well as aspirations to pursue career and labor market goals similar to those of men, and on the other hand, the emergence of institutions that allow women to take advantage of these opportunities by providing the means to reconcile work at home with paid work. The empirical analyses, using data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) for 26 countries, presents strong evidence in favor of this argument: the greater the difference between rates of change in female educational attainment and institutions that might reconcile paid work with motherhood, the greater is attitudinal ambivalence with regard to gender roles
2010. Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson, Ola Sjöberg. Socialstyrelsen - Social Rapport 2010Chapter
Social Insurance as a Collective Resource
2010. Ola Sjöberg. Social Forces 88 (3), 1281-1304Article
This article argues that unemployment benefits are providing a crucial but often overlooked function by reducing the insecurity associated with modern labor markets. Because job insecurity is associated with concerns about future financial security, economic support during unemployment may lessen the negative effects of job insecurity on employed individuals’ well-being. Using data from the European Social Survey, this article shows that the generosity of unemployment benefits makes a difference to the subjective well-being of employed individuals, especially those with limited economic resources and an insecure position in the labor market. These results indicate that unemployment benefits may be viewed as a collective resource with important external benefits, i.e., benefits to society over and above those to the unemployed who directly utilize such benefits.
Social policy and health
2010. Tommy Ferrarini, Ola Sjöberg. International Journal of Social Welfare 19, 60-88Article
This article analyses the development and design of unemployment insurance and family policy benefits and their links to health outcomes in Estonia, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary from the mid-1990s. Comparing these six transition countries with long-standing welfare democracies reveals important similarities and differences in policy and health. Unemployment benefit schemes resemble corporatist schemes in important respects, however, with lower coverage and average benefits. Subjective wellbeing is also comparatively low among both employed and unemployed in the transition countries. Several transition countries have mixed family policy strategies that simultaneously support dual-earner families and traditional gender roles. One clear exception is Slovenia, which has a highly developed dual-earner support. Family policy generosity is related to lower rates of poverty, infant mortality and child injuries. The article demonstrates the fruitfulness of institutional analyses of the link between social policy and population health in a broader welfare state context.
2010. Ola Sjöberg, Joakim Palme, Eero Carroll. The Oxford Handbook of the Welfare StateChapter
A Framework for Comparing Social Protection in Developing and Developed Countries: The Example of Child Benefits
2009. Ingrid Esser (et al.). International Social Security Review 62 (1), 91-115Article
The article outlines a conceptual and theoretical framework for improved comparative analysis of publicly provided social protection in developing countries, drawing on the research tradition of the study of longstanding welfare democracies. An important element of the proposed institutional approach is the establishment of comparable qualitative and quantitative indicators for social protection. The empirical example of child benefits indicates that differences between developed and developing countries should not be exaggerated, and that the prevalence of child benefits in sub-Saharan African and Latin American countries today resembles the inter-war period (1919-1938) situation in developed regions.
Comparative Indicators on Job Quality and Social Protection
2009. Olof Bäckman (et al.). Quality of Work in the European UnionChapter
Corporate Governance and Earnings Inequality in the OECD Countries 1979–2000
2009. Ola Sjöberg. European Sociological Review 25 (5), 519-533Article
The purpose of this article is to analyse the role of corporate governance in explaining cross-national differences and trends in earnings inequality in a sample of OECD countries between 1979 and 2000. It is argued that since corporate governance is fundamentally a question of in whose interest corporations are run, it will have important consequences for how the returns from production are distributed among the parties with a stake in the corporation. The article outlines an institutional approach to corporate governance and its cross-national variation as well as formulates a number of mechanisms whereby corporate governance may influence earnings inequality. The empirical assessment indicates that central aspects of these institutions, such as the role of the stock market in channelling capital to corporations, the extent of mergers and acquisitions, and protection of minority shareholders are all related to cross-national differences and trends in earnings inequality (as measured by the p90/p10 ratio). The conclusion is that corporate governance institutions and their respective managerial practices can make a significant contribution to our understanding of fundamental stratification processes.
European Social Models, Protection and Inclusion
2009. Joakim Palme (et al.).Report
Indicadores Comparativos Sobre Calidad En El Empleo Y Protection Social
2009. Ingrid Esser (et al.). Calidad Del Trabajo En La Unión Europa. Concepto, Tensiones, DimensionesChapter
Labour Market Mobility and Workers' Skills in a Comparative Perspective
2008. Ola Sjöberg. International Journal of Social Welfare 17 (1), 74-83Article
This article argues that there might be important efficiency gains for countries to provide generous unemployment insurance benefits. Firstly, generous unemployment benefits might reduce the risks, real or perceived, associated with labour market transitions such as changing employer and/or career. Secondly, such benefits might increase workers’ skills levels, both by functioning as a form of insurance for workers’ investments in skills that are not easily transferable between employers and by facilitating the accumulation of skills that are developed through experience with different employers. These arguments are supported by empirical data, covering 14 countries, from the Eurobarometer survey.