Ben Schneider is an economic historian researching jobs in the past to inform policymaking for the future of work. He is in the final stages of his PhD in Economic and Social History at the University of Oxford and will join the Centre for Research on Pandemics & Society (PANSOC) as a postdoctoral researcher in fall 2021.
- Tell us about your project
Work is a fundamental part of human life, but economic research on the impacts of pandemics has focused on the macroeconomy and, within labor economics, unemployment. My project analyzes how jobs changed during the 1918–19 influenza pandemic and the current COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. This research will examine how the quality of jobs changed and whether working conditions become more unequal during disease outbreaks.
Analysis of job quality is a growing field and builds on the commitment of UN members to achieve ‘decent work for all’ by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. The International Labour Organization, European Trades Union Confederation, and other nonprofits, government bodies, and labor collectives have developed metrics to capture whether people are employed in ‘good jobs’ since the late 1990s. In my PhD, I construct a parallel method to measure ‘good jobs’ in the past, examine how technological developments impacted job quality, and derive policy-relevant conclusions for the future of work.
My postdoctoral research project at PANSOC will combine historical analysis of job quality during 1918–19 with research into job changes during COVID-19. Using a combination of descriptive and quantitative evidence in a set of case study jobs, the project will show how aspects of work such as supervision, organization, hazard pay, and the crucial element of occupational risk changed over the course of the two pandemics.
- Why are you joining PANSOC?
The opportunity to collaborate and learn from researchers at PANSOC and the broader Work Research Institute (AFI) at OsloMet make this the ideal place to carry out research on the effects of pandemics on work. I am excited to join the growing PANSOC team and to learn from colleagues with world-leading expertise in historical and contemporary pandemic research. OsloMet’s focus on applied and policy-relevant research is also a great fit for my approach, and I am looking forward to conversations with AFI colleagues about research and interventions to improve access to good jobs.
- What are your plans for a future dream-project in academia?
My long-run research goal is to use social science methods and evidence from past and current examples of forces (like disease outbreaks and technological change) that transform occupations to inform policymaking and advocacy. I am developing projects alongside my current research that demonstrate the importance of studying history for understanding the future of work, including research that extends analysis of historical job quality to new examples that can contribute to contemporary debates in both developed and developing countries.